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US research fueling cruel and dangerous international primate trade

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US currently allows the import of primates sourced directly or indirectly from the wild for use in research or laboratory breeding colonies

The US is one of the world’s top users of monkeys for experiments with 70,797 non-human primates used in 2018[1]. Whilst many of these primates are born at large captive primate breeding centers in the US that are largely funded by government, others are imported from around the world. In fact, the US is one of the world’s largest importers of primates for research. According to recent data we obtained from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, 45,822 monkeys were imported from China, 22,707 from Cambodia, 9,303, from Mauritius, 1,320 from Vietnam, and 1,050 from the Philippines between January 2018 and June 2020, for use in experiments or for use in laboratory breeding colonies. 

Under the Public Health Service Act[2], non-human primates may be imported into the US and sold only for "scientific, educational, or exhibition purposes,” or for use in breeding colonies for these purposes.  The vast majority are imported for use in laboratory research.  There is currently no US law that prohibits the import of primates sourced directly or indirectly from the wild for use in research or laboratory breeding colonies. In contrast, the UK implemented a ban on the import of wild-caught primates in 1997, and the European Union will prohibit the import of wild-caught primates and primates from breeding farms that source primates from the wild from November 2022. 

Our field investigations in South East Asia and Mauritius have exposed the brutality and misery inflicted on monkeys in the chain of supply from the trapping fields to the laboratory cage or breeding farm.  The poor conditions during transport and on breeding farms create ideal conditions for disease outbreaks:  60% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, with 70% of these thought to originate from wild animals.

According to the most recent trade data available from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), in 2018, 2,649 monkeys were imported from the island of Mauritius alone. Of these, 393 were recorded as captive-bred, 81 were wild-caught and 2,175 were the offspring of wild-caught parents.

In addition to the cruelty endured by the animals captured  for research, this legal trade can provide cover for an unofficial and illegal trade in monkeys .Wildlife laundering (mixing protected species with legal shipments of similar species) also occurs when wild-caught primates are passed off as captive bred.

It is time for the US to end its role in perpetuating the cruel and dangerous international primate trade and at least match progress made in the UK and the EU by eliminating the import of wild-caught and wild-sourced monkeys for research.  

At the same time, the US should do more to end the use of primates in research altogether by prioritizing the funding and use of modern non-animal research and testing methods that promise to deliver more human-relevant information, treatments, and cures. The HEARTS Act aims to do just that. If you live in the United States, you can help by asking your Representative to become a cosponsor. Take action here.

If you’re in the UK, join us in calling for the UK to take a lead at the upcoming G20 meeting of governments in calling for an end to the global wildlife trade, including for animals used in research. Sign the petition here.




[2] [(42 U.S.C. 264; relating to control of communicable diseases) section 71.53(c) of title 42, Code of Federal Regulations, pertains to primate import]