Several lab monkeys escape after trailer crash on Pennsylvania highway, all caught after search operation

Trooper Lauren Lesher said state police secured the scene for the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the CDC

The Associated Press January 23, 2022 15:50:35 IST
Several lab monkeys escape after trailer crash on Pennsylvania highway, all caught after search operation

The driver of a pickup transporting monkeys pulls a crate of monkeys off of state Route 54 at the intersection with Interstate 80 near Danville, Pa. Bloomsburg Press Enterprise via AP

DANVILLE, Pa.: The last of the escaped monkeys from the crash of a truck towing a trailer load of 100 of the animals was accounted for by late on 22 January, 2022, a day after the pickup collided with a dump truck on a Pennsylvania highway, authorities said.

Several monkeys had escaped following the collision on 21 January, 2022, Pennsylvania State Police said. But only one had remained unaccounted for as of the morning of 22 January, 2022, prompting the Pennsylvania Game Commission and other agencies to launch a search for it amid frigid weather.

Kristen Nordlund, a spokesperson with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an email on the evening of 22 January, 2022, that all 100 of the cynomolgus macaque monkeys had since been accounted for. Three were dead after being euthanized.

The email did not elaborate on why the three were euthanized or how all came to be accounted for. But Nordlund said those euthanized were done so humanely according to American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines.

The shipment of monkeys was en route to a CDC-approved quarantine facility after arriving on the morning of 21 January, 2022, at New York's Kennedy Airport from Mauritius, an Indian Ocean Island nation, police said. The Atlanta-based CDC said the agency was providing "technical assistance" to state police in Pennsylvania.

The collision occurred on 21 January, 2022, on a state highway near an Interstate 80 exit in Pennsylvania's Montour County, Trooper Andrea Pelachick told The Daily Item, newspaper of Sunbury.

The location of the quarantine facility and the type of research for which the monkeys were apparently destined weren't clear, but cynomolgus monkeys are often used in medical studies. A 2015 paper posted on the website of the National Center for Biotechnology Information referred to them as the most widely used primate in preclinical toxicology studies.

Earlier, police had earlier urged people not to look for or capture any monkey, with troopers tweeting: "Anyone who sees or locates the monkey is asked not to approach, attempt to catch, or come in contact with the monkey. Please call 911 immediately."

Trooper Lauren Lesher had said the concern was "due to it not being a domesticated animal and them being in an unknown territory. It is hard to say how they would react to a human approaching them."

Lesher said state police secured the scene for the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the CDC.

The drivers of the trucks weren't harmed and a passenger was transported to a medical center for treatment of suspected minor injuries, according to the state police's crash report.

A crash witness, Michelle Fallon, told the Press Enterprise newspaper of Bloomsburg that she spoke with the pickup driver and a passenger after the crash. The driver appeared to be disoriented, and the passenger thought he might have injured his legs, she said.

Crates littered the road on 21 January, 2022, as troopers searched for monkeys, rifles in hand. Valley Township firefighters used thermal imaging to try to locate the animals, and a helicopter also assisted, the Press Enterprise newspaper of Bloomsburg reported.

The pickup was heading west on I-80 when it got off at the Danville exit and then immediately tried to get back on, driving across the other lane, the newspaper reported.

Fallon told the Press Enterprise that she was behind the pickup when it was hit on the passenger side by the dump truck, tearing off the front panel of the trailer and sending more than a dozen crates tumbling out.

She and another motorist who stopped to help were standing near the scene when the other driver said he thought he saw a cat run across the road, Fallon said.

Fallon peeked into a crate and saw a small monkey looking back at her, she told the newspaper.

"They're monkeys," she told the other motorist.

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