The eyes of the world are on Sochi, where the Winter Olympics are starting today.
But few people know that the Sochi area is home to the world’s first primate research laboratory. It was founded in 1927 under the name “Research Institute of Experimental Pathology and Therapy.” The original lab was established in the town of Sukhumi on the Black Sea, formerly part of the Soviet Union. Sukhumi is now the capital of Abkhazia, a disputed area that became involved in a war with Georgia in the early 1990s.
The Sukhumi Primate Center
One group of hamadryas baboons was released to live free in the woods behind the Sukhumi facility, but it seems that most of them lost their lives during the war. Previously, many baboons were provisioned at a station in the forest; a video called “The Lost Colony” shows them emerging from the trees to feed.
The Sukhumi lab has a peculiar history, to say the least. This was the place where, among other types of research, Soviet scientists once trained monkeys to go into space and even attempted to create human-chimpanzee hybrids. The bizarre breeding experiments, fortunately, failed.
There are still around 500 monkeys at the Sukhumi lab, but in the 1980s a new, bigger companion facility was set up nearby—in Sochi, now part of Russia. The new lab (Sochi-Adler) has been billed as a “monkey farm” and is actually proposed as a tourist attraction for visitors to the Winter Olympics.
The Sochi-Adler lab has increased its primate holdings. According to its Web site, the lab now holds over 4,000 monkeys and is committed to the large-scale breeding of African and Asian primates. Areas of interest to researchers there include cancer, viruses, and infectious diseases.
So, while you are enjoying the Winter Olympics, spare a thought for the thousands of monkeys suffering at the laboratories down the road.