Caged and bound for Britain: Factory-farmed monkeys are being shipped in their thousands to UK laboratories
By Danny Penman, Daily Mail, 26th November 2010
The young monkey reaches desperately into the cage where his mate is trapped, pawing in confusion at her soft fur. She has been lured by a juicy piece of sugar cane, and a trapdoor has slammed shut behind her. Trappers rush through the jungle towards them and the male bares his teeth, but he's forced to flee. His mate screams as she's grabbed by the tail and shoved into a sack.
Cruel: Monkeys born to captive parents are then shipped across the world to British labs
Her fate is a bleak one - she is destined to spend the rest of her life producing babies for vivisection laboratories in Britain. Although experimenting on monkeys caught in the wild was banned in Britain in 1997, laboratories across the UK have begun exploiting a ‘loophole' in the law that allows them to use the offspring of wild-caught primates. These are almost as cheap as wild-caught monkeys because they are reared abroad in vast factory farms.
According to Parliamentary questions recently answered by Home Office Minister Lynne -Featherstone, Britain imported almost 5,000 ‘non-human primates' for experiments between 2008 and 2009.
A further 2,000 have since been shipped to the UK. Most were long-tailed macaques from Mauritius and Vietnam, but they also included rhesus monkeys from China. Countries such as China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Mauritius supply 100,000 monkeys a year to labs around the world, including Britain.
'This trade is not only cruel and immoral, claim animal welfare campaigners, it's also slowly driving wild monkeys towards extinction'
The farms where they are raised are continually re-stocked with wild monkeys - so Britain's import ban, is having little effect.
This trade is not only cruel and immoral, claim animal welfare campaigners, it's also slowly driving wild monkeys towards extinction.
‘The British public has been misled into thinking our country has taken a principled position against using wild-caught primates,' says Sarah Kite, special projects director for the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV).
‘The Coalition Government should close the loophole by ¬completely banning the import of primates.' Mauritius describes itself as ‘a ¬tropical dream come true', the perfect destination for a luxurious holiday. And if you should want something more eco-friendly, it has a plethora of unique habitats brimming with rare and beautiful plants and animals. Behind this façade, however, it hosts four factory farms housing more than 40,000 monkeys, most of which are destined for research labs in Britain and elsewhere.
Virtually all of the monkeys were caught in the wild and many spent their first few weeks of captivity in holding pens across the island. One trapper, who worked for the giant Noveprim monkey farm owned by a company based in Mauritius, was filmed by the BUAV keeping his ¬captives in a wire cage barely larger than a rabbit hutch.
Anguish: A monkey is trapped and placed in a bag in Cambodia
On countless occasions he was seen swinging a monkey around by its tail. (The Animal Procedures Committee, which advises the Home Office on welfare issues, says monkeys routinely suffer broken arms, legs and tails during capture.) Once the monkeys reach the factory farms, dozens are crammed into cages no larger than a garden shed.
At the Noveprim farm, which houses 10,000 monkeys, the cells are barren and lined with concrete and chicken wire. If the monkeys are lucky, they'll be given a plastic barrel to play with, or perhaps a wooden swing. Hundreds of cages lie in long ranks. The complex is ringed with tall fences and guarded by men with sticks and machetes. Countless monkeys can be seen rocking endlessly back and forth - telltale signs of immense stress, and even madness. Others stare blankly into space - a symptom of shock and depression. Occasionally, a monkey will let out a long plaintive cry.
Whatever your views on vivisection - and we should remember that countless human lives are saved by lab testing - it's a heart-rending sound.
'Each female will have to bear at least one baby per year, which is forcibly weaned at eight months and exported soon after'
Most of the farmed monkeys are young breeding females (the majority of captured males are exported to vivisection labs). Each female will have to bear at least one baby per year, which is forcibly weaned at eight months and exported soon after.
This treatment, which sometime lasts for years, causes tremendous suffering, says Professor Stephen Harris, a wild mammal expert at Bristol University. ‘This is a truly appalling way to treat any animal, especially one that is as socially sophisticated as the macaque. Given that primates are just like us in many different ways, perhaps we should be asking if this is an ethically responsible way to treat them.'
The monkey farmers make a small fortune. Monkeys are bought from trappers for a few pounds and fed and housed for just five pence per day.
Each animal can be sold on the open market for £2,600, generating £26 million a year for the Mauritian economy.
The global lab monkey market is now worth more than £250 million a year, so it's not surprising that other ¬countries are getting involved. Chinese companies, along with ¬traders in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, have begun capturing huge numbers of monkeys in the jungles of South-East Asia for their own farms. These house tens of thousands of animals in tiny cages even more barren than those on Mauritius. Many of the breeding animals cling to the bars of their cages, staring blankly into space. Many of the monkeys will be used in China's own laboratories, but a great many will be exported to the West, including Britain.
Holding facility: The animals are kept in cages prior to transportation in Cambodia
China has begun importing thousands of monkeys from neighbouring states for its farms. In recent years, Laos has exported 5,000 macaques to China and Vietnam. The animals are often trucked back and forth across borders several times. Some claim that this is to leave a complex and confusing paper trail.
‘We fear that many of these wild-caught primates are being re-exported to Europe and America using suspect paperwork,' says Sarah Kite of the BUAV. ‘If this is true, then some of these animals may already have found their way to Britain - or soon will do.'
Because of these concerns, along with worries over animal welfare, all UK-based airlines refuse to carry vivisection monkeys. Even China Airlines has joined the boycott, describing the trade as ‘despicable'. But others, such as Air France, American Airlines and the U.S.-based carrier Continental, will fly the monkeys anywhere. Air France is now one of the world's biggest primate handlers, flying most of those destined for the UK into the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. They are transported by van to secret holding centres across Britain. Once they have been bought and sold by traders, often several times, they will be sent to labs across Britain, including those run by commercial chemical testing companies.
‘At the end of this nightmare journey they are destined to spend their lives in a metal laboratory cage,' says the comedian Ricky Gervais, patron of the BUAV's Stop the Baby Trade campaign. ‘They will then be subjected to cruel experiments.'
Terrified: Monkeys are held in cages prior to shipping
The monkeys are used in a wide variety of tests, some of which kill them within weeks, while others survive for years. In commercial labs they will be injected with newly-developed drugs and chemicals to see if these are poisonous. In university laboratories, primates might have parts of their brain removed to see how it affects their behaviour. Recent experiments at the University of Newcastle involved inserting electrodes into the heads of monkeys to measure the frequency of electric currents flowing through the brain.
In recent years, the military has greatly expanded its use of research monkeys. Experiments included shooting them in the head to gauge the effect of bullets and ‘missiles' on brain tissue. Riot control gases and bacteria and viruses have also been tested on them.
Britain is now the largest ‘user' of monkeys in Europe - and second in the world only to America. The UK uses more than 5,000 monkeys every year, while other countries have begun reducing the number of lab tests. Belgium has reduced the number of monkeys used in experiments by 90 per cent, while Austria has eliminated them completely. Many scientists say experimenting on primates is essential for medical progress.
Emeritus Professor David Morton, a vet and bioethicist from Birmingham University, says: ‘Sometimes you cannot use anything other than primates if you want to get good scientific data. For example, you wouldn't have the polio vaccine if primates had not been used in research. Doing research on wild-caught primates raises all sorts of ethical issues. No matter how much you domesticate them they will remain wild animals. Having said that, breeding them in the UK might not necessarily be more humane. Countries like Mauritius can do it a bit more cheaply, too.'
‘It always comes down to a balance between harms versus benefits. I think that the benefits to the human race outweigh the harm done to animals.'
But other leading scientists are questioning the fundamental ethics of the trade. Professor Stephen Harris, from Bristol University, says: ‘Monkeys are thinking, feeling, -conscious creatures. They're not that different to us in many ways. ‘I've heard it described as a ¬primate slave trade and it's difficult to argue with that description. I struggle to find any legitimate reason why we should treat our fellow primates in such a cruel manner.'