Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

The Primate Nations: Primate supply, transport, conservation issues, page 1

Posted: 1 September 2006

The most commonly used laboratory primates today are macaques, marmosets, tamarins, squirrel monkeys, owl monkeys, spider monkeys, and capuchins. Other species are used from time to time and great apes continue to be used in the USA and Europe.

The number of experiments performed on apes – chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans – is relatively low, but the suffering of these, our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, is undoubtedly great. A literature-based survey of the use of live apes and baboons in research between 2000 and 2003 found 599 studies (chimpanzees were involved in 65% of the work, gorillas in 15%, orangutans in 12% and baboons in 8%). Of these around 100 involved invasive surgery calcluated to cause a moderate to substantial level of pain or distress. Behaviour/cognition, conservation and various applications relating to infectious diseases (predominantly hepatitis and HIV but also Ebola and
Schistosomiasis, among others) were the most frequent areas of research92.

The UK is Europe’s largest user of laboratory monkeys, followed by France and Germany. Figures for primate experiments in other EU countries are relatively low93. In 2005 in the UK, (the most recent figures available) 3,115 primates (643 marmosets and tamarins, and 2,472 macaques) in 4,652 experiments94. It is estimated that over 75% of primates used in the European Union are macaques. The EU is estimated to experiment on approximately 10,000 primates per year, the US over 52,000.

These laboratory primates are either captive-bred or wild-caught, with wildcaught monkeys historically being the cheaper option for laboratories95. Although some primates are bred within laboratories, such as marmosets, the majority of primates, particularly macaques continue to be imported from suppliers outside the EU.

An examination of UK primate imports between 1994 and 2000, of 13,467 monkeys provides a reasonable profile of EU sources of laboratory monkeys: Mauritius (7,843 monkeys), Philippines (1,841), Israel (1,365), China (1,196), Guyana (635), Indonesia (241), USA (207) and Kenya (139)96. In 2003, only 38% of the primates used in British experiments came from within the UK. The Home Office stated: “Acquisition from abroad is due to a lack of available animals...”(97).

Overseas supply centres are known to supplement breeding programmes through the trapping of wild primates. This trapping is known to result in high mortalities, with injury and abuse commonplace. For this reason the use of trapped, wild-caught primates was banned in the UK in 1995 after a recommendation from the government’s advisory body, the Animal Procedures Committee: “the use of wild-caught primates should be banned except when exceptional and specific justification can be established and accepts the Committee’s recommendations which will underpin the ban.[The recommendations] will ensure public confidence in the arrangements for controlling the source of supply of captive-bred animals”(98).

In practice, however, the ‘specific justification’ caveat has meant that justification can be as simple as there being no captive-bred animals available at a given time. This has resulted in the use of wild-caught baboons in controversial xenotransplant (cross-species organ transplant) experiments.

Over thirty years ago, the impact of primate experiments in Europe and the USA had devastating implications for India’s native primates – leading to a ban on exports. Yet today, there remains a sense that researchers can use primates as and when ‘needed’.

All wild primates are protected under CITES (Appendices I or II) because their capture depletes natural populations and may endanger their conservation(99). However it sends a mixed message if Africans and South Americans are told that they should not be consuming certain species to stave off genuine hunger, but it is acceptable for European academics to experiment on these animals for fundamental (no application) or even ‘blue skies’ research.

Areas of Africa, South America and Asia where apes and monkeys were once safe have been opened up by logging operations and other industries. Now the habitats of these species are being destroyed and they are being hunted for food and a variety of other purposes in unprecedented numbers. At the same time, primates face the threat of live capture for export or local trade. One or more of these major threats affect almost all primate populations(100).

Consequently, out of the at least 625 distinct kinds of primates, 26% are in immediate danger of extinction(101). With these animals facing so many other threats, laboratory use, accounting for as it does approaching 2 million primates a year, cannot be viewed in isolation. Indeed, by far the biggest threat to some populations of wild primates, aside from habitat destruction, is trade for research(102). And the EU is part of this problem, with the majority of primates in EU laboratories coming from at the very least wild caught parents(103).

Little reliable information is available to primate users on the conservation status of the populations from which they are obtained. This makes it difficult to make informed decisions when considering approval of overseas sources, which in turn heightens the risk of local primate populations coming under threat(102).

There are inevitably trends in research, and certainly there has been one towards more primate research in the UK over recent years. In 2003, primate experiments in the UK leapt by 20% on the previous year(97). If such a trend was repeatedly globally, it would represent a requirement for tens of thousands more primates in laboratories. It is therefore easy to see a scenario in which laboratory primate use could accelerate very rapidly, with devastating implications for wild populations.

Next: The Primate Nations report: Primate supply, transport, conservation issues, page 2


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