May 27, 2022

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As if 2020 wasn’t strange enough with COVID and murder hornets, 2022 began with a truckload of 100 monkeys destined for a CDC laboratory escaping. 

The primate prison break took place on Friday in Montour County, Pennsylvania after a collision between a pickup truck with a trailer full of 100 cynomolgus macaque monkeys hit a dump truck on a state highway near the Danville exit on Interstate 80.

The shipment of monkeys was en route to an unnamed CDC-approved quarantine facility after arriving Friday morning at New York’s Kennedy Airport from Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.

By Saturday, all but one of the monkeys had been accounted for. Kristen Nordlund, a spokesperson with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that three of the monkeys had been euthanized humanely according to American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines. Details about the reason the monkeys were euthanized were not released to the media.


While the search was underway, police urged people not to look for or capture any monkeys. 

Trooper Lauren Lesher had said the concern was “due to it not being a domesticated animal and them being in an unknown territory. It is hard to say how they would react to a human approaching them.”

The drivers of the trucks weren’t harmed and a passenger was transported to a medical center for treatment of suspected minor injuries, according to the state police’s crash report.

Crates were seen littered around the site of the crash. Firefighters used thermal imaging to search for the monkeys. 

Cynomolgus macaque monkeys, also known as the crab-eating or long-tailed macaque, are native to southeast Asia. A 2015 paper posted on the website of the National Center for Biotechnology Information referred to them as the most widely used primate in preclinical toxicology studies.

PETA, the animal rights activist organization, released a statement claiming that the incident endangered the public.

“There is no way to ensure that monkeys are virus-free, and state veterinary and other records uncovered by PETA show that monkeys in laboratories in the U.S. have been found with tuberculosis, Chagas disease, cholera, and MRSA,” the statement read. 

PETA recounted a previous incident that underscored the danger to the public:

“In 1989, monkeys infected with an unknown strain of the Ebola virus landed at a facility owned by Hazleton Laboratories (later known as Covance and now Envigo) in Reston, VA. Four people became ill before all the monkeys were killed and the lab shut down. It happened again in 1996, that time in Texas.”

Perhaps due to their role in laboratories, monkeys have figured prominently in several incidents involving pathogens. Last year, a troop of monkeys attacked a laboratory technician on the campus of a state-run medical college in Meerut, India. The monkeys stole blood samples from patients infected with the coronavirus. It was not clear if the monkeys could contract the coronavirus if they came into contact with infected blood. The blood samples were recovered. 

Scenarios in which apocalyptic pandemics are caused by lab monkeys are fodder for science-fiction movies like 12 Monkeys, and 28 Days Later.