The Monkeys are Running the Zoo, and Spending Your Money to do it ... Literally

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Well … running IN it, anyway. Last week, some news broke about yet another infuriating waste of our money – $40 million of it, actually.

Yes, thanks to congressional appropriators and the NIH (which you would think would be reallocating literally every penny towards fighting things like the opioid epidemic or trying to stop Zika), you are now the proud funder of a fresh round of experiments to see what happens if you run monkeys on treadmills. Really.


Congratulations, I guess?

Here’s how the researchers in question describe the funding, and what they do:

The Southwest National Primate Research Center (SNPRC) at Texas Biomedical Research Institute (Texas Biomed) was awarded more than $40 million for a National Institutes of Health P51 grant through 2021 to  continue research programs using  nonhuman primates (NHP) as part of the National Primate Research Center (NPRC) consortia. This five-year grant from the NIH’s Office of Research Infrastructure Programs is the fourth renewal of the Center grant that provides funds to SNPRC to continue operation of its facility with nearly 3,000 nonhuman primates and continue its research in aging, regenerative medicine, experimental physiology and genomics and infectious diseases.

And here’s how Sen. Jeff Flake, who has dug into this facility’s operations a lot, describes what they do:

Each of the twelve little monkeys was put into a “transparent rodent exercise ball.” The balls of monkeys were then placed onto a standard human NordicTrak treadmill. The treadmill was started at a low speed and gradually increased to 1 mile per hour.

Fascinating, Captain. You’ll of course be relieved to know thatthey’ve spent a fortune on this:


The Southwest National Primate Research Center, located in Texas, received $8 million from NIH in 2015 for the grant that financed the 12 little monkeys running on a treadmill study. Over the past decade, the facility has collected nearly $70 million in grants and contracts from various federal agencies.

How do the monkeys feel about all this? Not super great, it seems.

The monkeys did acclimate to running in the exercise ball on the treadmill, but not without some spills and mishaps along the way. One vomited in his exercise ball and three others “defecated in their exercise ball.” Another monkey “in the treadmill running group died during week 11 of the study, for reasons not related to the study,” according to the researchers.

That is a gripping account. Thank Gaia we have it for the record. But just for fun, you should probably also know that the center has had its knuckles rapped for breaking the law, too (although I’m sure you’ll agree that government funding being spent in ways that violate the law is unprecedented and unheard of):

During this same period, the center has also been slapped with fines totaling more than $30,000 by the federal government for a number of violations, including performing a necropsy on a baboon that was still alive. USDA identified 14 violations of the Animal Welfare Act at the center over a two year period.


So let’s look back over this. We have $40 million of your and my hard-earned dollars being spent to finance monkeys running on a treadmill, barfing, crapping themselves, and dying – apparently without the big, clever academics actually noticing in one case – all because “science” being conducted by people who apparently break the law. But hey, now we’ll know a ton about how monkeys handle the treadmill. One small step for monkeys, one giant leap for monkeys. Or something.

You see, this is is the stuff that makes people crazy.



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