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November 23, 2010

Wild Monkeys Destined for U.S. Labs

Research facilities drive Mauritius monkey trade

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    Monkey families are torn apart by the research trade. kawisign/iStockphoto.com

Halfway around the world, wild monkeys destined for research laboratories in the United States are being captured, bred, and sold as part of a brutal monkey trade on the island nation of Mauritius.

This tropical paradise off the coast of Madagascar is the world's second largest supplier of wild-caught and captive-born long-tailed macaques used in research. The U.S. is by far the world's largest importer of these monkeys.

Data show that between 2008 and 2009, the U.S imported more than 7,000 monkeys from the island with each monkey reportedly being purchased for around $41.

Undercover investigation

Secret footage obtained by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) has shone a spotlight on this international monkey trade, and The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International are supporting a campaign to end the suffering.

Each year in Mauritius, thousands of wild monkeys are taken from their forest homes, using traps baited with bananas and sugar cane. Undercover footage shows the distress such trapping can cause, as family groups are ripped apart and once-free monkeys are confined in small holding cages to await transport. Some will be flown thousands of miles for laboratory experiments, while others are destined for breeding farms elsewhere on the island.

Breeding farm nightmare

On Mauritius' breeding farms, the suffering continues. Secretly filmed footage shows thousands of monkeys, including mothers with babies, kept in barren cages with concrete floors. Here, the wild-caught monkeys are used to replenish the "breeding stock," while their young offspring are sold to laboratories for experiments. Removing infants from their mothers at such a young age can cause extreme distress and depression. The BUAV reports that on the breeding farms, infants are separated from their mothers at 8-12 months old.

Sold into suffering

The final destination for many of these animals will be a biomedical research laboratory, where they will be used for experimentation. To get there, they will be packed into small wooden crates and flown as cargo, often on passenger flights.

Kathleen Conlee, director of program management for animal research issues at The HSUS, worked at a research laboratory in South Carolina that received shipments of hundreds of monkeys, including long-tailed macaques, who were housed alone in small quarantine cages upon arrival. "When the animals arrived, we were told that they were born in captivity," said Conlee. "I thought that was hard to believe because the animals were absolutely terrified—I had never seen anything like it before. Animals would turn around and try to flee, only to run into the back of the cage. Mothers would do all that they could to hide their infants. It was heartbreaking."

Conlee later learned that documents were falsified and that the monkeys were, in fact, captured from the wild.

Once in a laboratory, the monkeys are likely to endure further suffering, and many will be killed at the end of an experiment. Some will end up in contract testing and pharmaceutical facilities, where they will be used in toxicology research. They will be dosed with test chemicals or drugs, either by injection or forced oral ingestion, so that the physical effects can be observed. Others will be used in universities for fundamental and medical research, including neurological studies that can involve surgically implanting electrodes in their brains, or disease research that can involve infection with debilitating and distressing illnesses.

Destined for horror

In just a few short months, these highly intelligent and social animals can go from enjoying the freedom and rich diversity of the lush forests of Mauritius, to the barren existence of a breeding farm or laboratory. This suffering is so unnecessary. Please join us in sending a strong message to Mauritius that the monkey trade must stop.

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