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October 20, 2010

Monkey Trade Exposed in Mauritius

Humane Society International/Europe

  • Trade for research tears families apart. kawisign/istock

by Wendy Higgins

The suffering involved in the international trade in wild-caught monkeys destined for laboratory research has been exposed on the island of Mauritius. This tropical paradise is the world’s second largest supplier of wild-caught and captive-born long-tailed macaques for research, transporting up to 10,000 monkeys each year to laboratories in the USA, European Union and Israel. Secret footage obtained by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) has shone a spotlight on the monkey trade, and Humane Society International and The Humane Society of the United States 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’s breeding farms, the suffering continues. Secretly filmed footage shows thousands of monkeys, including mothers with babies, being 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. They will be packed into small wooden crates and flown as cargo, often on passenger flights. The United States is the world’s largest importer of laboratory-destined primates from Mauritius. Each monkey is reportedly sold for around £2,600 (U.S. $4100) and figures from the investigation show that between 2008 and 2009, the United States imported more than 7,000 monkeys from the island. In that same timeframe, the United Kingdom imported more than 2,700 monkeys. France, Spain, Germany and Israel are also significant importers.

In the laboratory, the monkeys are likely to endure further suffering and most 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.

Wendy Higgins is a UK-based campaigner and consultant for HSI.