‘We Can and Should Do Better’: Baboon Experiments Move Virginia Senator to Action


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PETA’s groundbreaking investigations have repeatedly exposed the horrors of the animal experimentation industry, which operates largely out of public view and continues to resist every call for increased transparency.

Our investigation into the suffering of thousands of beagles at the Envigo hellhole in Virginia opened the eyes of many, including Virginia legislators. State Senators Jennifer Boysko and Bill Stanley led the charge to pass historic legislation to afford animals vital protections and hold violators of the meager requirements afforded by the federal Animal Welfare Act accountable.

But in her April 20, 2024, column in The Virginian-Pilot, “Legislature Acts to Boost Animal-Testing Transparency,” Boysko says more is needed:

Despite our progress, transparency in our state’s animal testing facilities remains virtually non-existent. Even when facilities are publicly funded, the number and species of animals used and the amount of taxpayer dollars spent on animal versus non-animal research is unavailable. Attempts to change that during the 2023 General Assembly session were watered down. This year, stakeholders reached a compromise via Senate Bill 411, which creates a task force to study deficiencies and make recommendations for improving transparency at publicly funded animal testing facilities. I hope this will help us move the needle forward.

In April, Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed into law Senate Bill 411, introduced by Boysko, and the corresponding House Bill 580, which was introduced by Del. Shelly Simonds.

Boysko says she was “reminded of the importance of transparency” by PETA’s work to expose the horrendous baboon pregnancy experiments in the Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) laboratory of Gerald Pepe. PETA secured placement at a sanctuary for four mother baboons—Jemma, Cookie, Toya, and Tara—after they had endured years of torturous, invasive experiments. But the school killed them. Jemma and Toya were killed on February 13, and Cookie and Tara endured the same fate on March 21, just a week after their plight appeared in the news. Boysko’s editorial summarizes the misery that was inflicted on them:

Jemma, Cookie, Toya and Tara and likely hundreds of other baboons (and their babies) had been subjected to the stuff of nightmares. Since 1980, EVMS has been impregnating baboons and injecting them with hormones daily for up to 70 days. Throughout their pregnancies, they’re repeatedly restrained, sedated and manipulated for blood draws, muscle and vaginal biopsies, and more. Their fetuses are cut out at different stages, some up to nine days before full development.

Boysko notes that it’s illegal under federal law to put an animal through more than one “major survival surgery” without special permission. The medical school planned to put some baboons through as many as six cesarean sections each. In 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture even issued the school an official warning for subjecting Jemma, Tara, and another baboon to three cesarean sections each without approval. In 2023, the agency cited the school for a repeat violation.

Close up of a baboon

Boysko also notes that the medical school is the only university in Virginia that still experiments on nonhuman primates and describes the deep psychological trauma baboons there endured due to years of torment and confinement:

These baboons were imprisoned in cages and knew only fear, pain, and the dread of what would be done to them next. At 18 years old, their bodies were like a 70-year-old woman’s, yet they were impregnated and subjected to repeated poking, prodding and cutting.

As a mother and a champion of women’s and animals’ rights, Boysko said she relates “on a visceral level to these primate mothers and their heartbreaking stories…We can and should do better for animals and Virginia. Transparency is a good place to start.”

What’s Next?

Learn more about the pointless and cruel baboon pregnancy experiments at EVMS, and then TAKE ACTION to pressure it to end them, close the laboratory, and fire Pepe immediately!



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