An infant primate born to baboon mother Jemma in a university lab in Virginia started suffering — including from a lesion and physical traumas — before he was even 1 year old, new documents obtained by Lady Freethinker (LFT) through a public records request show.
LFT has previously reported on Jemma, a female olive baboon who has been used in experiments — including invasive pregnancy experiments — since 2011 at the Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS). We’ve reported how researchers cut her open at least three times to take her developing fetuses and dissect their tissues.
But we recently learned that in addition to Jemma’s three C-sections — which federal inspectors have alleged violated the federal Animal Welfare Act — she also gave birth to a son who was allowed to live.
His name is Boo. He is also known to researchers as 100417. And he’s been being used in the same experiments as Jemma, with his records also showing hair loss, injuries, attacks by cage mates, and a host of other conditions.
EVMS has not responded to repeated media inquiries since we first exposed the experiments.
But in the experimental protocol involving Boo, obtained by LFT through a public records request, researchers noted that they wanted to see how manipulating conditions in baboons’ wombs could impact their babies. Namely, they wanted to see if inhibiting estrogen late into pregnancies could alter the fetuses’ developing organs, reduce the fetuses’ response to insulin, and ultimately make those babies more prone to developing adult-onset conditions like diabetes or uncontrolled high blood sugar.
And so Boo — a scrawny infant born “underweight” according to researchers at just 0.89 kg (1.9 pounds) — was allowed to live.
Before Boo was even born, his mother was suffering significantly. In the months leading up to her pregnancy and while she was carrying Boo, Jemma went through an attack by a cage mate, had a finger amputated, sported hair loss and scabbing, and had cage wear on her teeth from biting the bars of her cage, which is widely recognized as a sign of psychological distress in captive primates. Her records show she was sedated at least seven times within 24 days. Jemma’s records also showed she had sustained numerous physical injuries — both self-inflicted and from attacks — long before she was pregnant with Boo.
There’s a blip in Jemma’s records when Boo is born on October 4, 2017: For the time that she reportedly is with him, Jemma has no new injuries or issues of self-harm recorded and instead turns to nursing her newborn, per her records.
But when Boo is barely 8 months old, the researchers forcibly wean him from Jemma. We’ve reported what happened to Jemma in the weeks and months following that weaning: Her records show finger injuries, lesions, hair loss, bruises, scabs, and a spike in self-injuring, with researchers writing that the cause of that behavior was “idiopathic” — or unknown.
Boo’s records show many of his issues also started around that time.
Just three days after the weaning, Boo’s records reveal that he had a skin lesion and actively bleeding “tail trauma” that was deep enough to expose the bone, which researchers wrote had turned necrotic and had to be cut out.
Before he had even turned 1 year old, Boo also had a rash noted on his abdomen and a bruise from an injection, per his records.
By the time he turned two, Boo had scraped off the skin of his hand, was missing fur, and also suffered a finger injury that resulted in blood spattered in his cage and researchers sealing the wound closed with sutures and surgical glue, according to his records.
As of November 2023, Boo is six years old. In his short life, he’s also had a hernia, gingivitis, and hair loss noted in his records. He’s undergone multiple rounds of intubations, been put under anesthesia for longer than an hour at a time, and endured blood collections, injections, and a muscle biopsy (in which researchers removed part of his muscle).
His trail at EVMS stops on December 1, 2022, when his records note he was removed from the facility. A further public records request showed that Boo is now being used at experiments at the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Comparative Medicine department, according to his disposition record.
Dr. Nedim Buyukmihci, veterinarian and co-founder of primate welfare nonprofit Action for Primates (AfP), reviewed information regarding Boo’s and Jemma’s health records and said the suffering was “unconscionable.”
“The signs seen in Jemma, the adult olive baboon being held captive at Eastern Virginia Medical School, are typical of the negative effects of being in a laboratory setting: loss of weight, loss of hair, and serious self-inflicted damage (so called self-injurious behavior),” he said. “Her suffering, psychological and physical, has been compounded by the multiple episodes of anesthesia and surgery to which she was subjected for the removal of her gestating infants as part of the experiment.”
“The one infant who Jemma was allowed to give birth to was permanently removed from her,” he continued. “The mother-infant bond is one of the most important aspects of non-human primate development and well-being, not only for the infant, but also for the mother. Removing infants results in intense psychological trauma for mother and offspring, something that is likely to last a lifetime. The fact that Jemma was subjected to multiple such deprivations is unconscionable.”
Meanwhile, the experiments — which have been federally-funded and taxpayer-supported since 1981 — have yielded no direct clinical applications for humans.
Lady Freethinker has been working hard to expose — and stop — these experiments and to get Jemma relocated to a reputable primate sanctuary where she can live out the rest of her life in peace.
We thank the more than 37,000 people who have signed our petition advocating for justice for Jemma. We’ll keep doing everything we can for both her and Boo.