Monkeys in Peril: Thousands Sold by Dealers for Experimentation

Story by Shirley McGreal, OBE
International Primate Protection League

Macaques are heavily sought after for research in the United States and many other countries. In the 1970s, India's rhesus macaques were decimated by trade. However, India banned monkey exports in 1977, followed by Bangladesh in 1979. Since then, animal dealers and their clients have turned their attention to crab-eating (long-tailed) macaques, a species native to Southeast Asia.

Young monkeys await export from Cambodia for an uncertain but tragic future—research or the dinner table.

A Growing Demand for Crab-Eating Macaques

The demand for monkeys for use in biowarfare experiments has increased in recent years. Monkeys are used because they are so similar to humans. Among the biowarfare agents tested on these animals are Ebola, anthrax, botulism and Lassa fever. Much of the research is classified and conducted at highly secret facilities, and it is now extremely difficult to use the Freedom of Information Act to gather detailed information.

One certainty is that there is no "humane" way to infect monkeys with agents such as Ebola, which causes human and animal victims ghastly deaths from "bleeding out." Nor is there any "humane" way to expose monkeys to the nerve poison sarin and other lethal nerve gases.

Monkeys are also used as a food source in some parts of Southeast Asia. The growing prosperity and population of the area, especially China, has made it possible for more people to indulge in increased consumption of monkeys and wildlife in general. This escalating trade has become a threat to the crab-eating macaque and additional species that were once common in the area.

This summer, hundreds of monkeys were confiscated from a Malaysian animal dealer. Though many were eventually released into the wild, some animals were already dead or died soon after their rescue.Problems for Cambodian Monkeys

Cambodia is a Buddhist nation and has historically never participated in the monkey trade. The nation's wildlife and protected areas were badly hurt by warfare and civil strife. However, its ecosystems were beginning to recover gradually—until the animal dealers moved in to loot Cambodia's wildlife.

US import statistics show no monkeys imported from Cambodia in 2004. In 2005, 240 Cambodian monkeys entered the United States, followed by 2,532 in 2006. All are marked on US Form 3-177 import declarations as "C," which means "born in captivity." Although this claim is highly dubious, US wildlife authorities did nothing to stop the shipments.

Cambodia is now home to at least two monkey breeding centers, the Golden China Group and KF (Cambodia) Ltd. Hsu. Leading US importers include Covance and Shin Nippon. On Nov. 25, 2006, the Cambodian Daily exposed this trade:

Obscured behind a high concrete wall with a sign reading "Golden China Primate Propagate & Research Center" is a roughly three-hectare [7.5 acre] compound housing an estimated 8,900 long-tailed macaque monkeys. Roughly 3,000 of the monkeys were captured in the wild by Cambodian villagers, according to Bun Tha, the Phnom Penh-based spokesman for Golden China.

The Daily reporter interviewed a former employee named Chim Chek, who said he was paid 75 cents US a day for construction work and described the cruelty he witnessed. "There is one building where there are several thousand monkeys in many cages," Chek told the reporter. "[B]etween 10 to 20 monkeys are kept in a single cage. I'm not happy with it. I think these Cambodian monkeys should live in the wild."

Malaysia Plans to Join the Monkey Trade

In 1984, Malaysia outlawed the export of monkeys on humanitarian grounds. At that time, the chief of wildlife was Mr. Mohammed Khan. Sadly, the long-standing ban was lifted on Aug. 17 of this year, when Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid announced that the Cabinet decided at a June 29 meeting to allow export of long-tailed macaques captured from urban areas.

Azmi cited macaque attacks on humans and the failure of relocation and sterilization programs as reasons for lifting the trade ban on macaques in urban areas. He ruled out culling because "it is cruel to shoot them."

Malaysian animal lovers expressed their outrage in letters to the editor of Malaysia's leading newspapers and demanded a meeting with the Minister. To fight the lifting of the ban, the Malaysian Animal Rights and Welfare Society (ROAR) was formed by the SPCA Selangor, the Malaysian Animal Assisted Therapy for Disabled Association, Parti Keadilan Rakyat, and the Malaysian Association for Responsible Pet Ownership.

The coalition submitted a memorandum to the Minister, demanding the reinstatement of the ban and a halt on all pending macaque shipments. It also lodged a police report against Azmi and ministry officials for violating Section 92(f) of the Protection of Wildlife Act of 1972.

Retired National Parks Department (Perhilitan) Director-General Mohammed Khan expressed his outrage at the plans to lift the export ban which, he stated, has "undermined the hard work of primate conservation groups." In an article published on Sept. 11, 2007 in the Malaysian newspaper Star, he commented that overseas buyers would not want urban monkeys, noting:

Urban monkeys are known to have tuberculosis and assorted intestinal diseases. They do not make good test subjects and are not appealing to exotic food importers. Eventually, senseless poaching of wild monkeys will ensue to fill the demands of importers.

Khan also questioned the assertion by the authorities that it is better to export than to cull. "Better for whom?" he asked. "Follow the money trail and trace who the beneficiaries are."


Please send a letter to the Embassy of Cambodia, requesting a ban on the export of monkeys and the release of all monkeys being held captive:

His Excellency the Ambassador of Cambodia
4530 16th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20011

Please write the Embassy of Malaysia, urging the country to cancel its plans to re-enter the monkey trade:

His Excellency the Ambassador of Malaysia
Embassy of Malaysia
3516 International Court, NW
Washington, DC 20008

Star reported that former Wildlife Director-General Musa Nordin was somehow involved in the trade, and that he had laid the groundwork for getting the ban lifted while he was in office. Mr. Nordin admitted his involvement, but claimed it was "indirect."

Meanwhile, Malaysians had an unpleasant preview of the hideous cruelty of the monkey trade. Animal dealers had illegally amassed close to a thousand monkeys at a palm oil plantation in Pontian in southern Malaysia. On July 7, after a two-week investigation, the plantation was raided and 950 macaques were confiscated by wildlife officials. Kept under terrible conditions and starving, the usually protective monkeys had started eating their newborn and fighting each other. Approximately 100 were already dead, and many more died later. Three Malaysian nationals and one Indonesian were arrested. Numerous surviving monkeys were later released into the forest.

On Aug. 29, a visiting animal protection worker was able to enter the plantation premises and observed cages jam-packed with monkeys. The undercover worker also saw animal trapping equipment lying around the premises. The dealers had received small fines—and were apparently undeterred and continuing their monkey collection activities.

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