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Monkeys died of shock, but exact cause unclear

An independent medical laboratory found the six tamarin monkey who died at the Oregon Zoo in June probably died of systemic shock, but the exact cause may never be known for sure.

"It's normal for animals to feel stress when moving to a news environment or getting new handlers, but those of us who have worked at the zoo for a decade or more have never seen anything like this and hope to never see it again," says Bob Lee, the zoo's animal curator.

The six monkeys which died were part of group of nine monkeys that were provided to the zoo by Harvard Medical School. They were driven across county in a van to the zoo. The trip took around 50 hours and the monkeys arrived at the zoo on May 22.

According to documents released by the zoo on Wednesday, the donor insisted on that mode of transportation, saying it had been used safely in the past.

"They had successfully transported tamarins to the Oakland Zoo previously by driving the animals from Massachusetts," reads an May 29 memo on the shipment.

The monkeys appeared healthy when they reached the zoo, the documents say, and were quarantined in three large cages that were linked together in the hospital at the zoo, which is standard procedure for new arrivals. The cage was equipped with a number of perches and places for the monkeys to hide and nest, including plastic cooler with holes cut in them.

When a zoo employee went to check on the monkey's the next day, only the head of one monkey could be seen sticking out of a hole in one of the coolers. When the employee entered the cage and approached the box, it was apparent that money was dead.

The employee then opened the coolers and found all of the monkeys in them. Six were dead, and three were still alive. The survivors included a male and female adult and a female infant, which was shivering.

Pathology reports were produced by Northwest ZooPath, an independent lab n Monroe, Wash. They conclude the monkeys most likely died of stress, but could not determine the exact cause.

Lee says the zoo was interested in obtaining the monkeys — an extended family — because it was combining several small primate exhibits into one large one and had room to show them to the public.

"Having a family is very uncommon, and we were sure we could provide them an excellent home," says Lee.

According to lee, the three surviving monkees are all doing well. The youngest one has been hand fed and is now weening herself off formula and beginning to eat solid food.

KOIN News 6 contributed to this story.