A group of baboons escaped from a biomedical research facility in Texas over the weekend, making use of a barrel originally designed as an “enrichment tool” to simulate life in the wild.
The intrepid escape attempt took place on Saturday, as three baboons were able to leap over a perimeter wall set up at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio. The wall, according to the Washington Post, was designed to prevent the facility’s 2,500 or so animals from escaping, and while there was a fourth baboon in the group who was also trying to escape, the animal chose to head back to its enclosure, leaving the three other baboons to temporarily enjoy their freedom.
As further explained by the Washington Post, the baboons that tried to escape were among the approximately 1,100 of their kind that are used by Texas Biomedical Research Institute scientists in hopes of finding treatments and vaccines for various diseases. The baboons are kept in an open-air corral with inward-folding perimeter walls that, per the research lab, are designed as such to “preclude the animals from jumping out.” However, institute officials gave the baboons 55-gallon barrels that were meant as a way to “mimic foraging behaviors,” so-called “enrichment tools” that could keep the animals busy.
Southwest National Primate Research Center (SNPRC) associate director of veterinary resources and research support John C. Bernal explained how the baboons were able to escape with the help of one of the 55-gallon barrels.
“The barrel was lifted in a strategic position in proximity to the wall. One of the baboons said ‘I am going to try to make this leap.’ And once that occurs, it’s a typical monkey see, monkey do [situation], and the others follow.”
Try as they did to make a run for freedom, authorities were able to capture all three baboons about 20 to 30 minutes after they escaped. Texas Biomedical Research Institute veterinary staff treated the animals after they were returned to the facility, are now “doing well,” according to an official news release. The fourth baboon was also confirmed to have returned to its enclosure on its own, following a full headcount.
While the escaped animals are now back in their enclosure and in good shape, a report from Newsweek earlier on Wednesday suggested that the Texas Biomedical Research Institute has a previous record of animal welfare violations, including a fine of over $25,500 levied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Speaking to Newsweek, Kathleen Conlee, Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) vice president of Animal Research Issues, alleged that the institute keeps its animals in “poor conditions,” limiting the number of opportunities they have to behave like they normally would in the wild. Without going into full detail, she added that the facility also kept dead animals in enclosures for multiple days, with several animals “unnecessarily” getting injured or killed due to the alleged mistreatment.
“The institution’s standards of care frequently fell short of the federal Animal Welfare Act, with primates living in overcrowded and barren conditions, mothers and infants separated, and injured and sick animals not receiving timely care,” read a report from HSUS.
While the institute has yet to comment on the new allegations, officials are considering switching to smaller barrels for its baboon enclosures, so as to prevent the animals from escaping in the future, the Washington Post wrote. The 55-gallon barrels used in the past weekend’s escape attempt, on the other hand, have already been removed for “further assessment and modification.”