A trio of baboons who broke free from a truck at a Sydney hospital and led police on a wild chase took advantage of a poorly maintained cage and a door left open by mistake, it can be revealed.
A string of apparent failures by the people responsible for transporting the animals from a western Sydney baboon colony to the Royal Prince Alfred hospital made the brazen escape possible, documents obtained by NCA NewsWire show.
Following the February 25, 2020 escape, the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) conducted an investigation, the findings of which were presented at an animal research review panel meeting in June that year.
Minutes from that meeting were released to Animal Justice Party MP Emma Hurst, who said the investigation showed there should be greater public scrutiny of animal research.
“This is what the industry won’t admit: the use of animals for experimental purposes is only accepted by society because no one knows what is happening,” she said.
“The results of this investigation were never released and details have only now become public after a call for papers by the Animal Justice Party.
“Clearly the government and the secretive animal experimentation industry never planned to release these details. They would rather the public forgot about the three baboons that escaped last year, because their faces remind the public that in NSW we still experiment on primates.”
The DPI investigation found a number of issues possibly contributed to the escape, including “(inadequate) consideration for the maintenance and state of the transport cages”.
According to the released minutes, a DPI compliance officer told the meeting “there was not adequate consideration for the possibility of escape and procedures to prevent this – for example no double containment by ensuring the garage door was closed”.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said at the time it appeared the baboons got out of the truck thanks to a faulty lock.
The newly released documents show they were then able to make their way into the fresh air because of the open garage door.
After escaping, the animals roamed the grounds of the hospital for about an hour before police and Taronga Zoo staff managed to capture them.
A male member of the trio was at the hospital to have a vasectomy done and the two other baboons were females who were there to keep him calm.
The three monkeys had been purpose-bred for medical research.
The investigation found there were not enough staff members present to handle the unloading of the baboons, and the transport operation had not been detailed in an application that was handed in before the vasectomy.
The organisation responsible appeared to have failed to comply with legislation governing the care and use of animals for scientific purposes, the DPI compliance officer noted.
But, the meeting minutes said, the organisation had responded quickly and helpfully to the incident and had “a history of compliance”.
The name of the organisation responsible was suppressed in the documents.
“It’s not clear what disciplinary action, if any, was taken by the government after this incident and given the intense secrecy surrounding the use of animals in taxpayer funded experimentation, we will probably never know,” Ms Hurst said.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said earlier this year the 15-year-old male baboon was still alive and healthy.
“I can assure you that the last report I had was the baboon who escaped … is very happy and doing well,“ Mr Hazzard told a budget estimates hearing in March.
It was not made clear if the baboons were still being used for medical experiments.