The federal complaint cites multiple incidents in which animals being used in research were injured, escaped from their cages or were found dead.

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An animal-rights group that watchdogs research facilities across the country has filed a federal complaint against the University of Washington, citing multiple incidents in which animals were injured, escaped from their cages or were found dead.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates the care of research animals, will look into the complaint, said agency spokesman David Sacks. It’s too early to say whether any of the incidents violate the Animal Welfare Act, the yardstick for triggering enforcement action, he added.

Thea Brabb, attending veterinarian at the UW’s Washington National Primate Research Center, said Thursday that the incidents are “concerning,” but that staff hasn’t had time to examine their records and figure out what happened in each case.

“If there are violations, we’ll find them and report them,” she said.

The UW primate center is the largest of eight across the country, housing more than 700 monkeys, macaques and baboons. The animals are used in research on AIDS vaccines, vision, brain function and emerging diseases.

The Ohio-based group Stop Animal Exploitation Now, or SAEN, regularly combs through records from U.S. research centers. The group singled out 21 incidents in UW records from 2010 to 2011, including five cases of monkeys escaping from their cages and sustaining cuts and bruises in the process.

“In the time we’ve been looking at these things, I haven’t seen another facility that had this number of primate escapes,” said Michael Budkie, SAEN’s executive director.

The records reveal that tips of fingers or toes of two primates were torn off, exposing bone. Two other animals suffered similar injuries to their tails, requiring amputation.

One monkey was found dead in its cage soon after having lugs implanted in its skull for neuroscience experiments. Another monkey had to be euthanized after a probe was inadvertently stuck into its brain during surgery. An infant monkey suffered a burn on its foot, and an adult cut its hand on a pair of scissors it grabbed from an attendant.

Escapes most often occur when animals are being transferred between cages, which happens hundreds of times a week at the primate center, Brabb said. None of the escapees got out of the lab.

She speculates that the finger and tail injuries were the result of fights between animals housed together to provide companionship and socialization.

The USDA fined the UW $10,893 last year for allowing a monkey to starve to death and conducting unauthorized surgeries on several others.

An accreditation board placed the facility on probation in 2006, but it is now fully accredited. Its last two USDA inspections found no violations.

Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or