Monkey on the run after escaping Louisiana research laboratory and dashing into woods

A rhesus macaque in Hong Kong: PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images
A rhesus macaque in Hong Kong: PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images

A monkey is on the run after escaping a research laboratory in Louisiana.

Staff at the New Iberia Research Center (Nirc), part of the University of Louisiana, realised the young rhesus macaque was missing on Saturday following what it described as a “cage failure”.

On Sunday, the 12-pound monkey was spotted heading to a woods in the town of New Iberia, around 30 miles southeast of Lafayette, the university said on its Facebook page.

The centre said the animal was part of a “breeding group” and carried “no transmissible disease”. Nevertheless members of the public were warned not to approach the creature, which was born at the facility, but “not a pet”.

Nirc staff were attempting to recapture the animal, the university said.

On its website, Nirc says is it is one of the biggest primate centres in the US, housing over 6,800 “non-human primates” including rhesus macaques, tufted capuchins, and crab-eating macaques.

The centre has previously faced criticism over the alleged mistreatment of its then-population of chimpanzees. In 2009, the Humane Society accused staff of physically abusing the animals. One former staff member between 2002-04 told ABC News: “I've seen rats and mice treated better."

Nirc told the US news outlet: "We have a clearly stated and direct no tolerance policy when the welfare of any animal in our care is threatened, and we will continue to strictly enforce that policy."

The macaque’s weekend escape comes amid mounting anger at the “shocking and inhumane” treatment of monkeys used in research.

Footage allegedly taken at the Netherlands’ Biomedical Primate Research Centre and released last month by Animal Defenders International showed macaques being kept in tiny cages and undergoing invasive procedures while apparently only partially sedated. The centre has been contacted for comment.

Jane Goodall, one of the world’s most renowned primatologists, said: “We know today that monkeys, along with many other animals, experience not only pain, but also emotions including fear and depression.”

She continued: “It is my considered opinion that those involved in this kind of research on primates should consider using alternative procedures that do not involve experimentation on intelligent, sentient beings. This research should be phased out as soon as possible."