On December 8, 2014, Air Transport International (ATI) was cited by the USDA for violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), after it transported 1,148 monkeys from China to Houston without providing food or water for more than 24 hours. This same company had been cited on July 28, 2014, for the same issue—in that case, not providing food and water for at least 32 hours to a shipment of over 1,700 monkeys.
Shipping monkeys from China to the United States has become big business. A monkey can be raised in China for about half the cost of one in the United States. While US breeders are subject to the regulations of the AWA and oversight by the USDA, breeders in China have no such oversight. Monkeys (primarily long-tailed macaques, which are not even native to China) are kept in huge open-air pens. When the babies are approximately 1 year old, they are shipped to research facilities all over the world.
Transportation of animals is very stressful, particularly when the transportation involves being taken from their mothers, loaded into small wooden crates (which are then stacked two or three high), and put into the dark belly of airplanes for over 24 hours. Provision of food and water is a basic necessity. Ignoring that requirement—twice—demonstrates that animal welfare is clearly not a priority for ATI. The company is not alone. Twice in recent years, a previous transporter of monkeys, China Southern Airlines, paid fines for AWA violations—in one instance, not providing food or water and thus contributing to the deaths of 17 monkeys.
The USDA needs to aggressively pursue action against ATI and penalize the company to the fullest extent of the law for their repeated violations of the AWA. Meanwhile, research institutions must take responsibility and require better treatment of animals by their suppliers.