PETA's Investigation of Caucaseco Scientific Research Center in Cali, Colombia

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Country of Origin:  United States Colombia
Summary: Developments and relevant legal materials concerning PETA's investigation into the irregularities and welfare conditions of primates used by the NIH-funded Caucaseco Scientific Research Center, A Colombian institution dedicated to scientific research for the development of a malaria vaccine.

                                                                                                                               monkey held down on a wooden countertop

This photo depicts a night monkey used for malaria vaccine research being held down on an unsanitary concrete surface at Fundación Centro de Primates (FUCEP) in Cali, Colombia. 

The following timeline outlines the United States and Colombian governmental response against the Caucaseco Scientific Research Center and Primate Center Foundation (hereinafter referred to as FUCEP). Two organizations owned and managed by a married couple conducted malaria research and received over USD 17 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health (hereinafter NIH) since 2003.

This case highlights the crucial role of the NIH in overseeing the ethical treatment of animals in scientific research. Multiple parallel investigations by different Colombian authorities were triggered by a complaint of animal cruelty followed by a PETA report concerning irregularities and the alleged mistreatment of monkeys used in malaria research at these facilities, which resulted in the largest operation to rescue wild animals in this country. It also marked the first time administrative and criminal investigations of animal cruelty within scientific research facilities were undertaken.

The collaborative effort of Colombian authorities and the rapid response to investigate presumed violations of environmental and animal cruelty laws underscore the ability of these authorities to enforce existing laws. Nevertheless, it shows why NIH's financial support of foreign animal experimentation should not be contingent on mere certification of compliance with existing domestic animal welfare laws and the assumption that such laws will be enforced. The Caucaseco Research Center conducted research on monkeys in violation of Colombia's environmental and animal protection laws for nearly two decades. This happened in broad daylight thanks to hefty grants awarded by the NIH. 

This case represents an advancement in the protection of animals used in scientific research in Colombia. It also marks a significant milestone in the NIH's promise to uphold its animal welfare policy, as for the first time, the NIH revoked the foreign assurances of its Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) granted to a foreign institution. Revocation of OLAW's foreign assurances renders grantees ineligible to receive U.S. government funding for scientific research conducted outside the United States. 

This Colombian case underscores the NIH's significant influence on global animal experimentation. As the primary financial supporter of scientific research worldwide, the NIH holds great responsibility, and its regulations, policies, and oversight play a vital role in ensuring the ethical treatment of laboratory animals, even outside the United States. Therefore, it needs to do more than just rely on domestic legal frameworks or require grantee verification of compliance with their guidelines.

View photos of the inhumane treatment of primates at Caucaseco Research Center, provided by the CVC and a PETA whistleblower.

Caucaseco's case latest developments and timeline

January 19, 2024: The Colombian regional environmental regional authority CVC, finds Herrera and Arévalo responsible for capturing, confining, and experimenting on primates of the Aotus griseimembra species without the legally required permits. Cucaseco and FUCEP are sanctioned with fines of approximately USD 281,000 (over a billion Colombian pesos), and the CVC assumes permanent custody of the rescued monkeys. In its ruling, the CVC acknowledges the occurrence of animal cruelty within these facilities, although this falls outside its jurisdiction for investigation and prosecution. Note that the defendants in this administrative action have the power to appeal this decision.

November 8, 2023: The CVC issues a veterinary report about the condition of the monkeys. 

September 4, 2023: The Colombian Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation acknowledges irregularities in Caucaseco’s Malaria Vaccine and Development Center contract management practices and requests that the National Planning Department—the agency that allocated the funds for Caucaseco—investigate and take the necessary actions.

August 5, 2023: The Colombian National Institute of Drug and Food Surveillance orders the suspension of human research activities at Caucaseco’s Malaria Vaccine and Development Center. This action is due to the center's alleged unauthorized clinical studies and failure to uphold scientific integrity standards.

July 19, 2023: The Cease Animal Research Grants Overseas Act (CARGO Act of 2023) is introduced in the House of Representative of the United States. This bill aims to amend the Public Health Service Act to prohibit the NIH from awarding any support for animal research conducted outside of the U.S.

June 29, 2023: The NIH revokes the Malaria Vaccine and Development Center (MVDC) and Caucaseco's OLAW's foreign assurances, rendering them ineligible to receive funding from the U.S. government for their research.

June 16, 2023:  The final report of the audit conducted by the Colombian Comptroller General's office to the Colombian Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MINCIENCIAS) revealed several serious irregularities, such as inconsistency and lack of information regarding contracts between the said Ministry and the International Center of Vaccines (CIV). Another of the institutions belonging to the Caucaseco Research Center. The findings in this financial audit led to the initiation of administrative sanctioning procedures for MINCIENCIAS.

May 19, 2023: The CVC, brings administrative charges against the researchers and Directors of Caucaseco, FUCEP, and MVDC, Socrates Herrera and Myriam Arévalo for lacking required permits to capture, use, and breed monkeys and for damaging the environment, more specifically wild fauna. 

May 4, 2023: The NIH requests confirmation of compliance and a research plan to ensure ongoing funding for their research from Socrates Herrera, researcher and Director of Cauceseco.

April 26, 2023: The family chamber of the Superior Tribunal of the Judicial District of Cali, Colombia upholds the decision of the lower court that denied a "tutela" filed by Myriam Arévalo that sought the dismissal of the administrative sanctioning procedure brought by the CVC. 

April 19, 2023: The Office of Forests, Biodiversity, and Ecosystem Services of the Ministry of the Environment issues an answer to a Reiterative Petition asking them to investigate irregularities, including possible Embezzlement of funds and prohibit the wild capture of native primates for research purposes.

April 3, 2023: Colombian authorities confiscated180 mice in possession of Caucaseco Scientific Research Center.

March 30, 2023: The U.S. Government Accountability Office publishes as report with suggestions as to why "the NIH Should Strengthen Oversight of Projects It Funds at Foreign Facilities."

March 23, 2023: The CVC's issued a decision denying defendants' request to dismiss the environmental sanctioning procedure against Caucaseco.

March 16, 2023: The Colombian Secretary of Safety and Justice orders the temporary closure of Caucaseco for failing to meet legal, sanitary, and safety requirements. The authorities also imposed monetary sanctions totaling approximately COP $875,580 or USD $223,95.

March 9, 2023: The NIH requested Socrates Herrara, Director Caucaseco to confirm compliance with the NIH guidelines for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.

March 2, 2023: The Ninth Oral Family Judge of the Cali Judicial Circuit in Colombia issues a decision denying a Tutela filed by the defendants on February 20, 2023, requesting dismissal of the sanctioning procedure initiated by the CVC against FUCEP. 

February 21, 2023: The General Comptroller's Office announces an investigation of Colombia's agencies funding FUCEP research, namely Colciencias (now Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation) and the National Royalties System.

February 17, 2023: The Colombian Prosecutor's Office announces criminal investigation through Special Group to Fight Animal Abuse (Gelma) for crimes against animals’ physical and emotional integrity, illegal capture and breeding of these animals, and a lack of permits to capture and experiment on monkeys since 2012. The authorities proceeded to confiscate the animals in possession of Caucaseco, as a precautionary measure to protect the animals. This confiscation constituted the largest operation to protect wildlife in the country. 

February 3, 2023: The CVC issues a managing plan to care forthe primates confiscated .

January 30, 3023: PETA submitted its investigation report to the pertinent U.S. autorities, regarding serious irregularities and violation of domestic laws by NIH foreign grant awardees Caucaseco Scientific Research Center.    

January 30, 2023: The Colombian Ministry of Science answered a petition to investigate the Caucaseco Scientific Research Center. 

January 19, 2023: The CVC brings legal action —Resolución 0710 No. 0713-00036 de 2023 as a result of the inspection and legalizes the orders to confiscate the primates and close the facilities as a precautionary measure.   

January 16, 2023: The CVC conducted an inspection at Caucaseco. Subsequently, a technical report of inspection was issued, and the suspension of all research activity involving the use of primates was ordered due to the lack of the required scientific research permits. 

January 7, 2023: Colombia's Ministry of Science announces investigation against Caucaseco.

January 5, 2023: The CVC announces sanctionatory procedure against the Caucaseco Scientific Research Center and FUCEP for violation of environmental laws.

December 21, 2022: PETA submitted a report of its investigation to pertinent Colombian authorities regarding serious irregularities at the Caucaseco Research Center.

July 15, 2022: The CVC answers citizen complain requesting the CVC investigates Caucaseco.

March 24, 2022: Business registration renewal form for Fundacion Centro International de Vacunas or Malaria Vaccine and Development Center (MVDC).

November 24, 2021: The CVC along with a veterinarian conducted a follow-up inspection at the Caucaseco Scientific Research Center to investigate reports of animal cruelty. The final inspection report uncovered concerning findings, including an inactive ethics committee, unsuitable sanitary conditions in the primate enclosures, and the absence of protocols for the primates' use and care, indicating the alarming conditions in which the monkeys were found.

November 5, 2021: Letter by Members of Congress requesting that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examine the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) oversight of taxpayer-funded animal research at foreign institutions. 

February 24, 2021: The regional environmental agency, CVC, responds to the complaint.

November 19, 2020: NIH's notice of grant award number 1U01AI155363-01 to Caucaseco Scientific Research Center for a project on the discovery and preclinical development of malaria vaccine. 

August 1, 2020: A citizen files a police report regarding animal cruelty at the Caucaseco Scientific Research Facilities and requests an announced inspection of the facilities.

July 29, 2020: NIH notice of award number 1R01AI148843-01 to Socrates Herrera for a project on discovery and preclinical evaluation for developing a malaria vaccine.Relevant Grant pages 1-8 and Grant pages 23-24

February 1, 2019: The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases provided a letter of support for Socrates Herrera's proposal to the NIH's Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant Program (R01) under PA-19-077.

May 16, 2013: Caucaseco's business registration renewal form.

April 10, 2023: Caucaseco's business registration renewal form.


Night Monkeys: Also known as owl monkeys, are primates of the genus Aotus that are native to Latin America. This was the species used by the Caucaseco Scientific Research Center in their research to develop a malaria vaccine. 

Centro de Investigacion Cientifica Caucaseco:  The Caucaseco Scientific Research Center gathers research centers in various biomedical research areas focused on human malaria. The Center is part of a Consortium for Scientific Research that comprises the Primates Center Foundation (FUCEP, in Spanish), the Pacific Health Institute (INSALPA, in Spanish), the International Vaccines Center Foundation (CIV, in Spanish), the Applied Biotechnology Center (CBA, in Spanish) and the clinic lab Asoclinic Inmunología Ltda.

CVC: "Corporación Autónoma Regional del Valle del Cauca," abbreviated as CVC, is the official environmental authority responsible for overseeing the management of renewable natural resources and environmental affairs within the Valle del Cauca region of Colombia.

FUCEP: "Fundacion Centro de Primates," is a member of the "Caucaseco" Consortium. Its mission consists of providing support for biomedical experimentation in animal models, with an emphasis on non-human primate species. On its website, FUCEP identifies itself as the only center in the world with a stable colony of owl monkeys (Aotus lemurinus griseimembra), which is the species recognized by WHO as the most susceptible to infection with P. vivax and P. falciparum. 

INVIMA: "El Instituto Nacional de Vigilancia de Medicamentos y Alimentos" is the Colombian National Institute of Drug and Food Surveillance. Under the umbrella of the Ministry of Health and Social Protection, INVIMA is responsible for the implementation of government policy regarding inspection, surveillance, and sanitary control of products within its competence to promote public health.

NIH: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) serves as the medical research agency in the United States, operating under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Its primary goal is to expand scientific knowledge and advance global science. 

OLAW: The NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare. It provides guidance and interpretation of the Public Health Service (PHS) Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, supports educational programs, and monitors compliance with the Policy by Assured institutions and PHS funding components to ensure the humane care and use of animals in PHS-supported research, testing, and training, thereby contributing to the quality of PHS-supported activities. 

Tutela: An expedited constitutional procedure in Colombia created for the immediate protection of constitutional rights. It is defined in the country’s National Constitution in Article 86, which states that “Every individual may claim… the immediate protection of his or her fundamental constitutional rights when the individual fears the latter may be jeopardized or threatened by the action or omission of any public authority.” 

For the latest timeline and information on NIH and governmental actions regarding this case in English and Spanish, visit PETA's page


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