Water is the single greatest basic need for mammals. We can live without food for a bit, but without water we won’t survive long. Right now, animal labs are getting away with depriving monkeys of water. WATER.
It’s allowed through an Animal Welfare Act exception known as water deprivation or “water restriction.” If this immediately makes you feel uncomfortable and question what is happening inside these facilities, it should.
While working as an animal care technician, I witnessed water deprivation firsthand. There was a schedule on the wall that listed the times and days when monkeys were to receive water. The rest of the time, they didn’t. There was no water bottle on their cage. No water dish. No lixit. Nothing. The amount of water these animals needed to survive was calculated based upon their weight and they were generally given just the bare minimum to keep them alive.
Why would someone do this? Well, that was my question and the answer broke me. Inside animal research facilities, experiments are performed on animals who actively try to escape them. For a while, researchers started using treats as a “motivation tool” to get the animals to do things they didn’t want to do. Well that could only get them so far. When this no longer worked and the monkeys decided that a snack or even food wasn’t worth the trauma, the experimenters, at some point, concluded the only thing left to take from them is water. So that’s what they did (and still do).
In order to force monkeys to “cooperate,” they take away their water—the most basic survival need. And that’s when it occurred to me, we (as a society) literally take everything from these animals. Our taxpayer dollars pay to lock them in tiny barren cages, take away their children, isolate them from any other living being, and implant metal devices into their skulls, among other things. And yet, under the minimal protections in place for animals in labs, the one thing they should legally have constant access to—water—is also taken from them.
I’d worked with monkeys before witnessing water deprivation and these monkeys exhibited a whole new level of stress-induced anxiety. They grimaced angrily, they swatted at workers, and they pounded on their cage walls with great intensity. And, while having no access to water, the monkeys were also given peanut butter. Let me clarify, the monkeys were fed peanut butter while not allowed to drink any water. But the monkeys were smarter than this and refused to eat it. Monkeys love peanut butter, but they knew. They knew that eating this peanut butter would make them thirsty. They knew they were not given water and they made the choice not to eat it.
On the days when they were given water, the monkeys would guzzle from the bottles as if lost in a desert, finally reaching a puddle. They were so relieved that I could see why this is effective from an experimenter’s standpoint. They’re right, the monkeys will do anything to survive and the researchers brought them to this emotional brink to get them to do just that, anything.
I spoke with other lab workers about this and they too were disgusted by this practice. The concept, in fact, is so abhorrent it made some of them cry. I felt that too.
This is a horrific practice that must be stopped.