Britches was the name given by researchers to a stump-tailed macaque monkey born into a breeding colony at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) in March 1985. He was removed from his mother at birth, had his eyelids sewn shut, and had an electronic sonar device attached to his head as part of a three-year sensory-deprivation study involving 24 infant monkeys.[1] The study, conducted by psychologist David H. Warren,[2] was one of a number that published data showing that neonate monkeys could learn to use information obtained from sensory substitution devices.[3][4]

Acting on a tip-off from a student, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) removed Britches from the UCR laboratory on April 20, 1985, when he was five weeks old — along with 467 mice, cats, opossums, pigeons, rabbits, and rats[5][6] — during a raid that reportedly included equipment damage of nearly $700,000.[7][8][9] The ALF took footage of the raid and of Britches' condition when they found him,[10] passing it anonymously to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who used it as the basis of their film, Britches.[11] A similar film was released by PETA a year earlier titled Unnecessary Fuss about the U Penn Head Injury clinic, and after OPRR investigated the film, they concluded it "grossly overstated the deficiencies in the Head Injury Clinic" by misleading editing and approximately 25 errors in the voiceover by Ingrid Newkirk[12]. According to Science Magazine reporting on the Riverside raid, PETA was a "mouthpiece for the unidentified liberationists".[9] As a result of the ensuing publicity, eight of the 17 studies interrupted by the raid were not restarted, and the university stopped allowing baby monkeys' eyes to be sewn shut, according to reports filed by the university with the government.[13][14] NIH conducted an eight month long investigation of the animal care program at UC-Riverside and concluded it was an "appropriate animal care program" and that no corrective action was necessary. [9]

A spokesman for the university criticized the ALF, saying that claims of animal mistreatment were "absolutely false," and that there would be long-term damage to some of the research projects, including those aimed at developing treatment for blind people.[15] Researchers alleged that activists had applied black mascara or paint to the monkey's eyelids to make the sutures look larger than they were, and that damage to the eyelids reported by a retired pediatrician on behalf of the ALF had, in fact, been caused by the pediatrician herself. The researchers also said that the sonar device had been removed and reattached by the ALF.[16]

The studyEdit

The experiments were designed to study the behavioral and neural development of monkeys reared with a sensory substitution device. Five groups of four macaques were to be raised from birth to three months, and one group to six months, blinded while wearing a Trisensor Aid (TSA), an experimental version of a blind travel aid, the Sonicguide. Other control groups were to wear the device with normal vision, or wear a dummy device with no vision. At the end of the experiment, the monkeys were to be killed, and the visual, auditory and motor areas in their brains would be studied.[2]

According to PETA's president Ingrid Newkirk, based on papers found in the lab by the ALF, the UCR researchers wrote that performing this study by artificially blinding the monkeys was necessary because "sufficient numbers of blind human infants [to study] were not within driving distance" of Riverside, and because the experimenters did not wish to be inconvenienced by the normal household routines if forced to work with blind children living at home.[16]

The raidEdit


Ingrid Newkirk writes that the ALF was alerted to the laboratory's work by a student who had reported the Britches' situation to an animal protection group, Last Chance for Animals. An ALF contact volunteering there heard the complaint, and approached the student for more information.[17]

On April 21, 1985, ALF activists, including Sally S, a businesswoman in her mid-30s,[18] broke into the laboratory and removed Britches along with around 467 other animals, taking footage of the raid, which they handed anonymously to PETA.[19] Activists say they found Britches alone in a cage with bandages around his eyes and, attached to his head, a sonar device — a Trisensor aid — that emitted a high-pitched screech every few minutes. He was clinging to a device covered in towelling that had two fake nipples attached, apparently intended to serve as a surrogate mother. He was handed to an ALF volunteer, a woman, who drove him from California to Utah, where he was examined by a retired pediatrician who had agreed to help.

According to UCR officials, the ALF also smashed equipment resulting in nearly $700,000 damage. Theodore Hullar, UCR's executive vice chancellor, said that research had been "set back years."[20]

Medical reportEdit

Veterinarian ophthalmologist Dr. Ned Buyukmihci of the University of California, Davis, and founder of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, examined Britches after he was removed from the lab. He stated that the sutures used were too large and that the monkey's eye pads were filthy. He said: "There is no possible justification for this sloppy, painful experiment."[10]

The retired pediatrician, referred to as Bettina Flavioli in Ingrid Newkirk's account of the raid, examined Britches and recorded her report on video:




File:Britches med.ogg

PETA released a film called Britches that included footage from the raid,[10][21] showing how the monkey was removed from the lab, his condition when the ALF found him, his gradual recovery, and his transfer to an adoptive mother in a sanctuary in Mexico. The study was condemned by other scientists and the American Council of the Blind.[13][14] Dr. Grant Mack, president of the Council, called it "one of the most repugnant and ill-conceived boondoggles that I've heard about for a long time."[16]

A UCR spokesman criticized the ALF, saying that claims of animal mistreatment were "absolutely false," and that there would be long-term damage to some of the research projects.[15] Researchers alleged that activists had applied black mascara or paint to the monkey's eyelids to make the sutures look larger than they were, and that damage reported by an ALF veterinarian to the eyelids had been caused by the veterinarian himself. The researchers also said that the Trisensor Aid had been removed and reattached by the ALF.[16] The raid prompted the head of the National Institutes of Health to say that "thefts" of laboratory animals by animal rights groups could be considered acts of "terrorism," and may require enactment of federal laws.[22]

Sally Sperling, a psychologist working in the lab that was raided, told the American Psychological Association's Monitor on Psychology:


Britches after the raidEdit


According to Ingrid Newkirk, Bettina Flavioli contacted a primatologist about Britches's future, and was referred to a sanctuary in Mexico that would take him. If not raised with other monkeys, the primatologist advised that Britches would grow to be aggressive and unmanageable. Following Flavioli's advice, the monkey was socialized by a number of handlers, to avoid his becoming too attached to any one of them.[23] When he was five months old, the retired pediatrician paid for the ALF to fly Britches to the sanctuary, where he was given to an elderly female macaque who had already raised several orphans.[10]

See alsoEdit



Further readingEdit

  • David H. Warren's page at U.C. Riverside
  • Warren, David H. and Strelow, Edward R. Electronic Spatial Sensing for the Blind. Proceedings of the NATO Advanced Research Workshop on Visual Spatial Prosthesis for the Blind. Held at Lake Arrowhead, California, September 10-13, 1984. Springer, 1985.
  • Khan, Ali Yousaf Ali. "Angels of Mercy", Channel 4, June 24, 2006; includes footage of Britches.
  • Mann, Keith. From Dawn 'Til Dusk. Puppy Pincher Press, 2007; features Britches on the front cover.

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External linksEdit

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