Six rare monkeys dropped dead soon after their arrival at the Oregon Zoo, officials said on Friday.
The six dead cotton top tamarins, an endangered species native to Central America, were in a group of nine of the tiny squirrel-like primates that arrived at the zoo on May 22. They were placed in quarantine at its veterinarian center, which is routine procedure, according to officials.
Six of those nine monkeys mysteriously perished. Their dead bodies were found by members of the veterinarian staff two days after their arrival, officials said in a statement. The cause of death is still unknown.
The other three imported monkeys, including one five-week-old baby, appear to be in good health, according to officials.
Initial necropsy results were inconclusive and tissue samples have been submitted to a pathologist for analysis, said spokesman Jim Middaugh of Metro, the Portland-area regional government that owns and operates the zoo.
Middaugh said Metro is working to understand what happened to the dead monkeys, whose lifespan normally averages approximately 13 years. It was unclear how long they had been dead before they were discovered by veterinarian staff.
Middaugh also said he could not comment on where the critically endangered monkeys came from. "We're working through that," he said.
One of the smallest primates in the world, the cotton top tamarin monkeys once flourished in the Northwestern regions of Columbia up until the 20th Century, when humans began trapping and exporting the monkeys, for medical research purposes. By 1976, it is estimated up to 40,000 cotton top tamarin monkeys had been caught and killed.
Between the massive demand for the monkeys by Big Pharma companies, and the large-scale destruction of their habitat, the cotton top tamarin is now on the critically endangered list. Today, it is estimated that there are less than 6,000 cotton top tamarin monkeys in the wild.
The six dead monkeys discovered at the Oregon zoo come right on the heels of two high-ranking zoo employees, including the facility's director, being fired earlier this month following the death of an orangutan in January.
An investigation into the death of the 20-year-old ape, named Kutai, found evidence of mismanagement and poor reporting, according to Metro.
"We're really working hard up at the zoo to ensure that everyone feels empowered to share their concerns openly," Middaugh said.
"We really have a team of professionals up there who focus every day on taking care of the more than 200 species at the zoo. Mistakes happen. They don't happen often at the zoo."
Zoo officials said hope to receive the pathology results for the six dead cotton top tamarin monkeys within a few weeks.
[Image By Michael Stuber]