A mother baboon named Jemma who has been used in invasive pregnancy experiments at the Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) for years has a history of self-harming, according to new documents obtained by Lady Freethinker through a public records request.

Several studies have noted that animals undergoing severe psychological distress in captivity will often harm themselves.

In Jemma’s case, her afflictions include injuring her fingers, rubbing off a layer of her skin, pulling out her hair, and biting the bars of her cage so hard that she’s broken her teeth, according to her health monitoring logs from EVMS.

EVMS did not immediately respond to media inquiries.

Lady Freethinker previously reported that Jemma was among a group of pregnant mother baboons being injected with Letrozole, an estrogen inhibitor that researchers noted could cause seizures and spontaneous abortions. 

Jemma’s previously-obtained records indicated she had seizures, was found drooling and unresponsive in her cage, and had her growing fetuses cut out of her via C-section at least three times between 2019 and 2021, in apparent violation of the federal Animal Welfare Act. Those records also indicated other symptoms — including unexplained alopecia, or hair loss, and missing fingers on her hands. When asked about those conditions, EVMS told Lady Freethinker, “We pair house the baboons and, like their counterparts in the wild, they sometimes fight.”

We wanted more information than that — and Jemma’s full history at EVMS, starting from when she arrived as a 6-year-old baboon back in 2011, reveals a much more grisly reality.

Jemma’s records note that she has suffered numerous injuries from other monkey attacks. But researchers marked at least 16 of the 33 references to abnormal behaviors like overgrooming, self-trauma, or “SIB” (self-injurious behavior). Her health records refer to her ripping off her own fingernail, rubbing off the top layer of her skin, inflicting lacerations onto her fingers, repeatedly injuring her shoulder, and breaking her teeth and “cage wear” from biting the bars of her cage.

Self Trauma

Some of Jemma’s Self Harm (EVMS; Emphasis Lady Freethinker)

The records also explain Jemma’s hair loss, with numerous references to overgrooming and also a reference to Trichotillomania, or pulling out her own hair.

All of those symptoms have been recognized by primate experts as stereotypic behaviors that indicate severe psychological stress.

Jemma also lost weight in an amount significant enough to be noted in her records at least five times, including one point in her records that indicate she dropped from 15.3 kg to 10.6 kg between February and July 2022 — a 31 percent weight loss. Lady Freethinker reached out to EVMS for comment on those specific weight entries and never received a response back.

Jemma's Weight Loss

Jemma’s Weight Loss (EVMS/ Emphasis Lady Freethinker)

There’s one notable spike in Jemma’s timeline of self-mutilation that EVMS researchers wrote they could not explain but that corresponds with a significant life event for Jemma.

We’ve since learned, through the public records request, that Jemma has a son who was born on October 4, 2017. Researchers know him as Boo, or #100417, and they’re currently also experimenting on him.

Jemma’s records note she had been previously paired with newborn baboon babies, with caring behavior and less self-harming behavior resulting. Her log notes following Boo’s birth state that she demonstrates “very good maternal behavior,” is nursing Boo, and appears “healthy.”

But once an 8-month-old Boo is forcibly weaned from her, Jemma and her health appear to take a serious turn— including that she starts tearing out her own hair, officially referred to by the researchers as Trichotillomania.

Jemma's Records Before and After Boo

Jemma’s Records Before and After Boo (EVMS/ Emphasis Lady Freethinker)

The timeline: In late June, researchers wean Boo, leaving Jemma with engorged mammary glands. About a week later, a finger injury crops up in Jemma’s records. By September, Jemma also is sporting shoulder and finger lesions, hair loss, bruises, scabs, a pus-filled abscess on her hand, and shoulder self-trauma from pulling out her hair, with a note from researchers to evaluate her for a program if her self-injurious behavior continues. From October through the end of January, her logs note that she re-injures her shoulder area and continues to have hair loss with lesions, blood, and scabs. Her log notes also record a weight decrease of 16.5 kg to 14.6 kg — or 12 percent weight loss.

The researcher monitoring her notes only that the cause of Jemma’s self-harming behavior during that time period is “idiopathic” — or unknown.

Lady Freethinker has issued additional public records requests to learn more about the experiments that Jemma has endured in her 12 years at EVMS and also for more information about her son, Boo.

Cage Wear

Cage Wear Noted On Jemma’s Teeth (EVMS/ Emphasis Lady Freethinker)

In the meantime, we’re seeking for EVMS to release Jemma to a reputable primate sanctuary. Jemma does not deserve to keep undergoing horrific, painful procedures until she dies or is willfully killed by researchers when they’re “done” with her.

The only thing Jemma deserves is to live out the rest of her life, in peace and with others of her own kind, at a primate sanctuary. 

We thank the more than 37,000 people who have signed our petition for Jemma. We’ll keep advocating for this mother baboon and her son, and we’ll report back with our additional findings.

Please help us fight for justice for Jemma today by sharing our petition as widely as you can to help raise awareness about her tragic plight. If you’ve already signed the petition, please consider respectfully sending a message to EVMS leadership urging them to retire Jemma to a reputable primate sanctuary:

President: Alfred Abuhamad; [email protected]
Board of Visitors Contact: Tracy Morton (who is also the Senior Executive Assistant to the President) [email protected]

SIGN: Justice for Jemma, Mama Baboon Repeatedly Brutalized in Lab