Laboratory Primate Advocacy Group (LPAG) is a community of former and current primate laboratory workers whose shared knowledge and experience are combined to promote the interests of nonhuman primates held in laboratories and other captive settings. The primary mission of LPAG is to speak on behalf of monkeys and apes in research and breeding institutions. LPAG is firmly opposed to the use of nonhuman primates in biomedical research, and has several main objectives:
- to serve laboratory primates by telling their individual stories and providing current information about their plight, including laboratory conditions and research activities;
- to educate the public about the behavior, emotion and intellect of nonhuman primates;
- to use our first-hand experience to become a resource for others working to help nonhuman primates;
- to provide education, support and advice in order to empower former and current primate laboratory workers;
- to speak only the truth, without embellishment or exaggeration, and to meet all goals and objectives through non-violent measures.
Jessica Ganas and Rachel Weiss, with Katie Conlee, Jen Feuerstein, Terri Hunnicutt, and Nancy Megna created LPAG in 2000 in response to our frustration at the way we and other lab workers were treated by the research establishment when we advocated for nonhuman primates. We all shared a love of science and a desire to work with monkeys and chimps. Our work in the labs made us question the research and, ultimately, decide to advocate for the end of biomedical research on nonhuman primates. We thought that there might be many others like us, at labs across the country, so we started LPAG as a way to reach out. We also felt the heavy responsibility of bearing witness to the treatment of monkeys and apes in the labs where we worked; creating LPAG was a place where we could come together and tell the world about what we had seen and done.
LPAG’s six founders represent more than 70 years of experience caring for nonhuman primates. We’ve worked in 18 laboratories, zoos, field sites, and sanctuaries.
Kathleen Conlee, Director, was introduced to primates in a laboratory while an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts. After graduation, she worked for seven years at a primate breeding and research facility in South Carolina, then known as LABS, Inc (Laboratory Animal Breeders & Services). She was responsible for managing a colony of over 3,000 individuals, mainly macaques. The facility bred as many animals as possible in order to sell them to other research laboratories. The lab culture largely treated the animals as objects but it was news of illegal importation of primates by the company that finally prompted her to leave the lab behind. She then cared for the chimpanzee and orangutan residents at Center for Great Apes, a North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA) sanctuary in Florida. Katie now serves as vice president for animal research issues at The Humane Society of the United States, where she has worked for sixteen years. Her focus is the long-term goal of replacing the use of animals in harmful research and testing, the development and implementation of non-animal alternatives, and the short-term goals of ending invasive chimpanzee research and retiring chimpanzees from laboratories to sanctuaries. Katie also serves on the NAPSA Council of Professionals.
Jen Feuerstein, Director, is the Sanctuary Director for Save the Chimps, the world’s largest chimpanzee sanctuary, located in Fort Pierce, FL. She has worked for Save the Chimps since 2003, when late founder Dr. Carole Noon hired her to help care for the chimpanzees rescued from the Coulston Foundation in New Mexico. A graduate of Kalamazoo College, Jen has worked with lemurs, monkeys, and apes in a variety of settings since 1991, including the Cincinnati Zoo, University of Georgia, and Yerkes National Primate Research Center. Jen has also served on the board of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA).
Jessica Ganas, Vice-President, began working with captive primates at the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center studying common marmosets. From there, she went on to study the behavior of semi free-ranging rhesus macaques at the Caribbean Primate Research Center in Puerto Rico. Next, she worked at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, where the daily injustices and atrocities of primate lab research began to take its toll psychologically (along with experiences at the other primate centers). The frustration of watching caring people unable to create change within the system, along with the horror of watching animals suffering convinced her to leave primate biomedical research forever to devote her time and energy to promoting an end to research on non-human primates. Jessica went onto to study wild mountain gorilla ecology and conservation in Uganda and received her PhD in Biology from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in 2008. Since then she’s worked on biodiversity conservation projects in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Cameroon.
Terri Hunnicutt, Director, spent almost 20 years working in direct care of captive nonhuman primates, mostly great apes. She started out as a volunteer at the Gulf Breeze Zoo in Florida, next worked as a primate care technician at Yerkes National Primate Research Center, then as a zookeeper at the St Louis Zoo, and finally as a supervisor at the Center for Great Apes and Save the Chimps. Terri also has experience as an animal care worker at a high kill shelter and briefly worked as an animal care technician at a veterinary pharmaceutical research facility, which held dogs, cats, mice, rabbits and hamsters. Currently she is concentrating on a career transition, beginning work as a massage therapist while continuing to study modalities to help heal humans and animals of pain, trauma, grief and loss. The transition was born of her own journey and resulting desire to reach out to others who might be on a similar path.
Nancy Megna, Director, is an animal advocate, activist, and caregiver who has been working with and on behalf of animals most of her life. Nancy has studied and observed primate behavior in labs, zoos and in the wild. She gained firsthand knowledge by caring for primates inside two laboratories – New York University’s Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP) and Yerkes National Primate Research Center. This work compelled her to become a founding member of LPAG. As a program specialist and an Advisory Board member for the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS), Nancy was able to share the truth about the inhumane practices and living conditions in labs, which are hidden from the public behind closed door policies. Currently, Nancy works as a behaviorist with emotionally and intellectually disabled individuals and notes that their PTSD and self injurious behavior from abuse and neglect strikingly resembles PTSD and self injury in laboratory primates. Nancy has always been involved with pet rescue and also works for her veterinarian who devotes much of her practice to pet rescue organizations. Having seen the miracles of sanctuary, Nancy remains committed to ending the use of chimpanzees, and all animals, in biomedical research.
Rachel Weiss, President and Secretary, began working for laboratory monkeys (squirrel monkeys and marmosets), rats, mice, rabbits and birds at Indiana University in 1993. After graduation from college, she moved to Atlanta, Georgia to work at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center. She looked forward to caring for nonhuman primates at a prestigious lab, making a contribution to science and medicine, and learning more about human relationships with our closest relatives. Shortly after beginning to care for hundreds of HIV/SIV infected macaques, Rachel began to understand the tremendous suffering required of these research subjects. She started working for chimpanzees and became the lead care-tech in the Chimpanzee Infectious Disease building, home to Jerom Chimpanzee and twelve other HIV+ individuals. After promising Jerom that she’d work toward an end to biomedical research on chimpanzees, and a week after Jerom’s death on February 13, 1996, Rachel quit Yerkes to spend much of the next year habituating wild chimpanzees in Uganda. Soon after she returned to the States, she began caring for former pet, laboratory, and zoo monkeys and chimpanzees at the Primate Rescue Center, in Kentucky. She received a JD from the Northeastern University School of Law in 2004 and now works for the Federal government in the field of public health. Rachel was a member of the Save the Chimps Board of Directors from 2010 to 2014 and is currently on the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA) Council of Professionals.
The founding 15 chimpanzee residents of the Fauna Foundation – Binky, Chance, Jethro, Petra, Rachel, Regis, and Sue Ellen and the late Annie, Billy Jo, Donna Rae, Jean, Pablo, Pepper, Tom, and Yoko – have over 200 years of laboratory experience at four facilities including the Primate Foundation of Arizona, Merck Pharmaceuticals, the Buckshire Corporation, and the defunct Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery In Primates (LEMSIP). The bodies of these stoic individuals were used in all manner of invasive biomedical research. Most lived in pairs or alone, in cages often no larger than 5’x5’x7′ until their release to sanctuary in 1997. Their experiences will likely haunt them forever, and although they will be captive to the end of their days, they now spend their time in relative peace and tranquility, with each other and the humans who are dedicated to their care. The endurance of these individuals gives us hope and is a constant reminder of the possibilities.