Three baboons who went on the run from Royal Prince Alfred Hospital may have escaped from planned tests on robotic surgery equipment, write Dinita Rishal and Eva Pang.
According to a hospital insider the primates, a male and two females, escaped from a garage on Susan Street, Camperdown, which houses the hospital’s animal unit.
The same building – Building 26 – is also home to the RPA Surgical and Robotic Training Institute.
A hospital worker, who wished to remain anonymous, told Hatch: “I have heard terrible screams coming from the building. It started about two years ago when the robotic surgery unit moved in there.
“The animals usually arrive after 4pm-5pm and are unloaded in Building 26. It used to be the audio-visual part of RPA but changed a couple of years ago.
“If what’s going on is ethical then they should be transparent about it.”
When approached by Hatch, neither the NSW Health Minister’s office nor RPA would comment on, or confirm, if the male baboon (or any other animal) was being used to test the robotic surgery equipment.
It has not previously been released where exactly in the hospital the baboons escaped from, although it was said a faulty lock allowed them to get out of a vehicle they were being transported in.
The insider who spoke to Hatch added that the vehicle was being reversed into the garage at Building 26 when they made their break.
A utility with an animal trailer attached to the back of it has also been spotted leaving a second garage in Building 26, that is part of the robotic surgery facility.
On February 25 videos of the troop scampering around the hospital car park and grounds were seen around the world, but also raised questions about animal testing at Australian hospitals.
All three, who had been brought from the National NHMRC Baboon Colony in Wallacia, roamed around the area for two hours before being caught by NSW Police and taken back to the colony.
After the escape NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard claimed the male baboon was at the hospital for a vasectomy, and was accompanied by the females as they were part of a family unit.
Jayson Sim, One of the founder members of Sydney Save Animals in Laboratories, said: “They won’t tell us, and we’re the public. We’ve got the right to know if we’re at risk. Why is this all done in secrecy?
“The media and the police and the government started turning it into a joke talking about ‘monkeying around’ and vasectomies.
“If they were escaped prisoners they would not have turned that into a joke. This is more risky because these were infected baboons.
“There should be a public investigation into what actually happened, as the public have got the right to know here.”
The three runaway apes were bred in a baboon facility in Wallacia where they were said to be used for medical experimentation.
However, there is a lot of secrecy around what the baboons at the facility and at the hospital were actually being used for.
“We were told categorically there were no baboons there. And clearly, those animals got out,” said psychologist Clare Mann last Friday at a protest in front of the RPA against animal experiments.
Kevin Coleman, a retired GP and a member of the Animal Justice Party said: “There’s a lot of secrecy here. We have been to the outskirts of the Wallacia facility. It’s all curtained off.
“We know there’s also research happening at Westmead Hospital. They both are affiliated with Sydney University.
“We’ve had drivers (transporting the animals) tell us some years back, the baboons are brought in, something happens to them in the operating theatres after hours.”
Humane Research Australia CEO, Helen Marston said: “Despite assurances that primates are kept in world class facilities, Humane Research Australia has unveiled damning information about the unexpected deaths of primates in Australia – and now this!
“While the industry is shrouded in secrecy, much of this research is funded by taxpayers through the National Health and Medical Research Council.”
The NHMRC Baboon Colony provides access to a large number of non-human primates for research regarding diabetes, kidney problems, blood-bone-marrow cancers and pregnancy. The monkeys that escaped the hospital were used for breeding.
However, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have stated it is “grossly inadequate” to use monkeys for the research of human diseases, due to their major anatomical, genetic and immune differences from humans. All that these experiments help in achieving is the “next government grant”.
“Like human prisoners of war, these baboons seized the moment to break free and run. But unlike human wars, this is a one-sided affair where the baboons have done nothing but exist and we have locked them up, denying them any semblance of a real life.
“These intelligent, aware, feeling beings deserve to be retired after this bid for freedom, not incarcerated again, and PETA stands ready to help.”
The Sydney Morning Herald revealed in 2016 secret taxpayer funded ‘Frankenstein-like’ medical experiments being carried out on animals at a number of Sydney hospitals.
Emma Hurst, Animal Justice Party MP, said she wanted to ensure the escaped animals will not be used for further medical research.
“We want whole of life sanctuary for the three baboons that escaped. And our other ask is that the government urgently invests in more funding for alternatives to animals experimentation.”
Over 150 protesters gathered outside the RPA in Camperdown on March 1, and again last Friday to call for an end to animal experimentation.
The facility had the 15-year-old baboon scheduled for a vasectomy due to ‘too excessive breeding’.
Members of the public polled by Hatch unanimously disagreed with the use of the baboons in medical testing.
Ciara Clemens, 21, a student from Ryde, said: “They shouldn’t have been there. Animal testing is bad.”
Retiree Noel Dodds, 69, from Sydney, said: “I am totally against animal testing. This shouldn’t be taking place anywhere, let alone in a hospital.”
A Save the Baboon petition has been started by the Acorn Animal and Health Welfare following the escape. The petition, which is against the use of public funds and taxpayer dollars to carry on ‘Frankenstein-like’ experiments on animals, has so far garnered almost 4000 signatures.
The Animal Justice Party has also started an End Animals Testing in NSW petition which has close to 1000 signatures. It calls for the NSW Government and the Shadow Health Minister Ryan Park MP to investigate the animal experimentation carried out in Sydney hospitals, and to fund humane research alternatives.