Fighting for Their Rights 

PETA will hold protests in Memphis.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Columbia University president Dr. Lee Bollinger will speak Thursday at the University of Memphis' Fogelman Executive Center. Outside the building, protesters will be shouting and holding signs, but these days they won't be fighting for civil rights.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is stopping off in Memphis to protest experiments on primates currently under way at Columbia University. Alka Chandna, manager of PETA's campaign to end animal experimentation, says her organization has been trailing Bollinger and other Columbia administrators, as well as hitting up alumni gatherings, since October.

"There are terrible things happening to the primates at Columbia," said Chandna. "In one experiment, a researcher cuts out the left eyes of baboons and then induces a stroke by inserting a clamp into the eye socket, closing three critical arteries. ... We understand from a veterinarian who was working at Columbia that the animals were not given sufficient pain relief during or after the experiments."

According to Chandna, two other experiments at Columbia concern PETA. One involves a researcher surgically inserting metal pipes into the skulls of monkeys to study the connection between stress and the menstrual cycle. The other involves researchers pumping nicotine and morphine into pregnant baboons.

The experiments were first brought to PETA's attention by a veterinarian working at Columbia. After she approached the university's Internal Animal Care and Use Committee, an investigation was launched, and although the committee agreed in a written response that the findings were "below the standards expected at this institution" little was done to change them.

That's when PETA stepped in with a national demonstration campaign. Chandna said local and national protesters from PETA will be in Memphis Thursday, and although they'll be protesting before a civil-rights speech, she says it's necessary to get their message across.

"Lee Bollinger has an excellent track record as far as civil rights are concerned, but we'd like him to also see that primates are complex and intelligent beings with a social structure similar to our own. They shouldn't be deprived of basic rights either," said Chandna. "That a person of his caliber cannot understand that is shocking to us."

E-mail: bphillips@memphisflyer.com

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