The U.S. Department of Agriculture has cited a primate research center at UC Davis for "failure to provide adequate veterinary care" in the deaths of 19 monkeys, most of them infants, in 2009 and 2010.
The federal findings, resulting from self-reporting by UC Davis and a follow-up government inspection, concluded that the university needed to improve monitoring of infant monkeys for signs of illness, weight loss or loss of appetite.
The citation, issued Feb. 4, carries no fines or enforcement actions.
The California National Primate Research Center at UC Davis maintains a population of about 5,000 primates for research in such things as malaria, HIV, asthma, allergies, Alzheimer's and autism.
The government review involved the deaths of rhesus macaque monkeys that were among 3,000 monkeys housed in 24 outdoor corrals of a half-acre each.
Fourteen of the monkeys that died were infants 2 months old or younger whose deaths were blamed on lack of nutrition - likely due to nursing problems with their mothers. The others were older animals dying from gastrointestinal problems.
Since the government review in 2011, UC Davis has added a second daily health inspection in outdoor corrals. It also has implemented measures to help the infant monkeys thrive, such as luring mothers to fences with apples and bananas so that animal caregivers can bottle-feed undernourished infants with formula.
Dallas Hyde, professor of veterinary medicine and director of the California National Primate Research Center, said some of the animal deaths resulted from difficulty in determining whether mothers closely cradling their young were having difficulty nursing and - as a result - providing insufficient nourishment.
"With juveniles, there may be inexperienced mothers or first-time mothers that don't lactate well or just aren't good mothers the first time around," Hyde said. "And the animals are carried around very closely so that they're covered by their mothers' arms or maybe you can just see a tail or an ear (of the infant) and that's about it."
A letter from U.S. Department of Agriculture received by UC Davis last month noted that the university "took timely corrective action" to respond to the animal deaths. But it said a 2011 inspection indicated the primate center wasn't doing enough.
UC Davis' "failure to act on its own consistent findings of inanition and dehydration of nonhuman primate neonates constitutes a failure to provide adequate veterinary care under the Animal Welfare Act," wrote Robert Gibbens, western region director for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
Hyde said improvements in animal monitoring since 2011 have addressed the federal concerns.
Besides offering treats to monkey mothers so that their cradled babies can be fed extra nourishment, Hyde said, veterinary technicians are strolling among the primate herds twice a day to look for signs of poor health, including lacerations or diarrhea.
He said about 500 animals a year are treated by UC Davis veterinarians and "our death rate has decreased every year over 30 years."
"We think we take excellent care of the animals," said university spokesman Andy Fell. "We can always strive to improve the care of the animals and we have been working with the agency that issued the citation do do that."
Two years ago, the Department of Agriculture cited UC Davis for using a monkey, later euthanized, in 2008 research studies despite evidence it was in ill health from vomiting, hair loss and behavioral problems.