Written as a Guest Blog for Los Angeles-based anti-vivisection group Progress for Science.
There is—I would say inarguably—no more iconographic an image of both the animal liberation movement and the horrors of the vivisection-industrial complex than that of a black-masked individual cradling a baby stumptail macaque monkey in his or her arms. But the story behind that image is at least as significant and representative as the image itself. It is the story of Britches.
This macaque monkey, who came to be known as Britches, was born in early 1985 in a laboratory at the University of California, Riverside, and torn away from his mother shortly thereafter. His eyes were sewn shut and a sonar device was strapped to his head 24 hours a day; this device emitted piercing, jarring metallic sounds. He was stuck in a tiny steel cage with only a blanket and a small padded post to which he would desperately cling, terrified and alone. This study was supposedly designed to study blindness; according to the researchers, they didn’t want to go through the trouble of traveling to actual blind people’s houses, and so instead performed animal mutilation. He exhibited extreme neurotic behavior—uncontrollable muscle spasms and twitching, rubbing incessantly at his body, and emitting shrieks at frequent intervals. The extent of torture he experienced can clearly be seen on the video shot by the liberators themselves.
Thankfully for poor little Britches—who was small enough to fit into the palm of your hand—there were people who cared, and who were compelled to do something about this senseless brutality. A courageous student working inside the UC Riverside laboratories managed to get the word out to an unknown ALF (Animal Liberation Front) contact, and a group was assembled to break in and rescue Britches and other animals. The ALF cell waited until spring break when there would be far fewer people on campus. In the middle of the night in March of 1985, they tunneled through air ventilation systems and broke through numerous locked doors, all the while staying clear of roving security guards. The liberators were dressed in white lab coats with black balaclava masks. Utilizing their clandestine contacts, an anonymous, sympathetic veterinarian was ready and waiting to examine the animals, and they’d already found a safe, out-of-state home for Britches to go. All told, that night some 700 animals were rescued from a lifetime of nothing but horrific misery, including mice, rats, rabbits, pigeons, opossums, and cats. It remains one of the largest and most high-profile “live liberations” of laboratory animals ever.
The ensuing fallout from the action was monumental. The ALF-sympathetic veterinarian found on Britches a shoddy suturing job that resulted in multiple lacerations of his eyelids and damage to his corneas. Lesions were found all over his upper body. Dr. Ned Buyukmihci, UC Davis Veterinary Opthamologist, went on record, insisting that the sutures used were far too large, and that they were even an improper type. Dr. Buyukmihci stated, “There can be no possible justification for this sloppy, painful experiment.”ons” of laboratory animals ever.
Outrage came from many sectors. President Grant Mack of the American Council of the Blind said the experiments were “…repugnant and ill-conceived boondoggles”. He stated that to spend “$275,000 to artificially blind monkeys and study those animals…in hopes that they will learn something that will help human beings is reaching quite far. I would think that the purposes would be served a good deal better if they used the same amount of research to find out about blindness from blind people…people who can articulate how they really feel and how they react…”
Not surprisingly, UC Riverside went into the familiar deny-everything-mode. They claimed that it was the ALF-sympathetic veterinarian who damaged Britches’ eyes, and that the footage of Britches was doctored with makeup, and that all of their experiments were completely painless. However, when internal documents were later obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the University’s claims were exposed as blatant lies.
This is something we’ve seen again and again and again, since some of the first footage came out of vivisection laboratories, and continuing to this very day. Universities scramble to justify their pointless and torturous experiments, repeating their tired mantras ad infinitum. Sadly, the majority of the public swallows their lies with nary a hint of critical thought. It is up to us—those who know the truth and care about the agony of voiceless innocents—to expose the corporate institutions’ lies and brainwashing for what they are.
In the end, Britches, that one tiny monkey, can stand as a model, a symbolic pillar, of the wastefulness, cruelty, sociopathology, and callous murderousness of not only the vivisection-industrial complex, but of industrial civilization as a whole. Live liberations of laboratory animals have become in most cases prohibitively difficult given the increase in security and surveillance of the modern techno-fascist police state and its corporate-friendly (to put it mildly) laws and prison sentences. For this reason, it is imperative that those who care about life on our planet adapt, evolve, and overcome in order to find ways to bring about real justice when the cards are stacked against us. This no doubt involves vamping up the militancy of our thoughts and actions and those which we support, until the level of action we either undertake or vocally support becomes commensurate with the calamitous problems at hand. We owe at least that much to the memory of Britches—and to the courageous unknown warriors who saved him and all the other animals that night.
A quick note on little Britches’ fate: Instead of being murdered and dissected after a short, miserable existence inside UC Riverside, he lived for 20 joyous years with an adopted primate mother at a sanctuary.
Sources used for this article:
Free the Animals by Ingrid Newkirk