The Silver Spring Monkeys: The Case That Launched PETA
In the summer of 1981, one of PETA’s founders, a student named Alex Pacheco, set out to gain some experience in a laboratory and began working undercover at the Institute for Behavioral Research (IBR). IBR was a federally funded laboratory in Silver Spring, Maryland, run by psychologist and animal experimenter Edward Taub, a man with no medical training.
There, Pacheco found 17 monkeys living in tiny wire cages that were caked with years of accumulated feces. A rotting stench permeated the air of the cramped, dungeon-like room, and urine and rust encrusted every surface.
The monkeys were subjected to debilitating surgeries in which their spinal nerves were severed, rendering one or more of their limbs useless. Through the use of electric shock, food deprivation, and other methods, the monkeys were forced to try to regain the use of their impaired limbs or go without food.
In one experiment, monkeys were kept immobile in a dark chamber made out of a converted refrigerator and then repeatedly shocked until they finally used their disabled arm. The inside of the refrigerator was covered with blood. In another experiment, monkeys were strapped into a crude restraint chair—their waist, ankles, wrists, and neck held in place with packing tape—and pliers were latched as tightly as possible onto their skin, including onto their testicles.
The trauma of the monkeys’ imprisonment and treatment was so severe that many of them had ripped at their own flesh, and they had lost many of their fingers from catching them in the rusted, jagged cage bars. Workers often neglected to feed the monkeys, and the animals would desperately pick through the waste beneath their cages to find something to eat.
PETA gathered meticulous log notes detailing what was happening inside IBR and secretly photographed the crippled monkeys and their horrendous living conditions. Then, after lining up expert witnesses and showing them around the laboratory at night, PETA took the evidence to the police—and an intense, decade-long battle for custody of the monkeys ensued.
This groundbreaking investigation led to the nation’s first arrest and criminal conviction of an animal experimenter for cruelty to animals, the first confiscation of abused animals from a laboratory, and the first U.S. Supreme Court victory for animals used in experiments. It even led to landmark additions to the Animal Welfare Act—and unrelenting public scrutiny of the abuse that animals endure in experimentation.
PETA has scored many victories for animals in laboratories since the landmark Silver Spring monkeys case, but tragically, experiments like this still go on.