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NEWS RELEASE: Animal perimeter breach incident highlights critical role of animal care team in biomedical research

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS (April 16, 2018) – Texas Biomedical Research Institute and the Southwest National Primate Research Center reported that on the afternoon of April 14 four baboons left their enclosure, and three of them breached perimeter fencing around the Institute. The three baboons were captured by SNPRC’s highly-skilled animal capture team within 20-30 minutes of leaving their enclosure. This incident occurred just before our nation highlights the critical role animal caretakers play in the advancement of treatments and cures for humans on Biomedical Research Awareness Day April 19.

“The actions of the animal care and capture team taken this weekend is just one example of the strong training and preparedness of animal care workers in biomedical research.” Said John Bernal, DVM, attending veterinarian at SNPRC. “Our animal capture team and the entire animal care team acted diligently and followed protocol to locate, secure and account for the baboons.”

The animal capture team, per protocol, was wearing personal protective equipment for the safety of the animals, as they are susceptible to human illnesses. These animals were not infected, as they were not on an active study nor used in infectious disease research.

More than 2,500 animals on the Texas Biomed campus are a crucial part of the quest to understand the mechanisms of disease. They aid our scientists in the search for new diagnostics, drug therapies and vaccines. Texas Biomed has produced a new video titled “Animals in Biomedical Research: A Vital Scientific Resource” that helps tell the story.

During this weekend’s incident, the fourth baboon appears to have immediately returned to the enclosure; however, without a visual confirmation and until a full head count of the animals in the enclosure, our animal capture team continued monitoring the perimeter area, while animal care staff completed a full head count and determined that the fourth baboon had, in fact, returned to the enclosure and all four baboons were officially accounted for. The SNPRC veterinary staff attended to the three baboons managing to breach perimeter fencing, and the baboons are doing well.

“The animal care team held two of the three baboons to the tree line, while members of the animal capture team followed one baboon along the street and used verbal and hand signaling commands to corral the baboon to the tree line for its safety and efficient capture,” explained Dr. Bernal. “Our team was ensuring the baboon was not hurt by traffic on Military Drive.”

The baboons are housed in an open air enclosure that is surrounded by perimeter walls that fold inward to preclude the animals from jumping out. This enclosure has been used for more than 35 years. The animal care staff has determined that the animals rolled a 55-gallon barrel to an upright position. Implementation of the barrels as an enrichment tool used to help mimic foraging behaviors was reviewed by the animal care team and USDA during their last inspection and found to be a valuable component of the enrichment program. However, the team has removed them from use for further assessment and modification, as the barrel was close enough to the wall that the animals had an opportunity to climb on one and get out of the housing structure. Upon noticing the animals on top of the enclosure, our animal care team immediately removed the barrels from the enclosure and alerted the animal capture team.

“This was truly a unique incident,” said Lisa Cruz, Assistant Vice President for Communications. “We have been caring for research baboons for more than 50 years. We have nearly 1100 baboons on the property that date back eight generations. Baboons, as with all our animals, are critical to biomedical research. Baboons, in particular, have played an important role in the discovery of life-saving drugs, therapies and vaccines and have led to greater understanding of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis and so much more that impact the lives of millions of people.”