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August 22, 2009

Animal Experimentation: A Hidden Journey

Posted by : admin
Filed under : Enviornment News


We’ve all got used to the idea of a supply chain for products and the ‘reporting’ of that supply chain so that consumers can make decisions based on the ethicality or origin of a product or recognise its pedigree as a fair-trade, recycled, animal-friendly, organic, packaging free or whatever-else-is-the-current-preoccupation kind of purchase.

But there are supply chains we know almost nothing about, even when their ‘end product’ is a subject of hot and angry debate.

Mauritius, home of the tax exile, the yacht owner and … the monkey breeder?

Around 10,000 macaque monkeys are exported from Mauritius to the USA, UK and Japan annually – the monkeys are bred for medical research from animals capture from the wild and the trade provides work for around a thousand Mauritians from trappers to people who work in the breeding centres through to the airport staff who manage the live export business.  But animal rights groups across Europe are bringing public awareness of the trade and campaigning to get tourists to boycott the island for its animal rights record.

There’s a difficult problem to be solved. The macaques are not indigenous to the island and cause massive damage to an eco-system that developed without their presence. Their greatest effect is on avian life because not only do they eat birds’ eggs out of the nest; they kill and eat fledglings and adult birds. At least two species that are classed as endangered: the rare Pink pigeon and the Echo parakeet are subject to macaque predation. The monkeys arrived with Dutch sailors in the sixteenth century and have been happily predating Mauritius ever since. So how should Maruitians cope with these unwelcome invaders: culling, tolerance or managed removal?

I say predator, you say cuddly monkey …

Managed removal is certainly what many Mauritians support – the hard currency income earned from the monkeys reaches people who aren’t in the banking and tourist industries and see little ‘trickle-down’ of income from those twin money-generators. The Mauritian government does pretty well too, charging around £40 for each monkey’s export licence, which is then used to fund conservation projects on the island. Farmers are happy enough too – macaques are particularly fond of sugar cane and the large monkey population has been an increasing problem for farmers in recent years.

I say animal management, you say animal cruelty …

The ethical issue is based around the way the monkeys are used. It’s not the captured beasts that are exported – instead they are caught from the wild population of around 50,000, by trained trappers and brought to breeding centres where they are examined for diseases. Those found to be suitable for breeding give birth eight to twelve months after being placed in a breeding centre and the young macaques born this way are kept for two years, then checked again for disease and if fit, exported.

Little thought is generally given to the origin of animal research subjects, whether we accept or abhor their existence. The Mauritian case seems like a solution: find a place where an introduced species causes environmental harm and reduce the effect of the species both by reducing numbers and by using the profit made to repair environmental harm.

Let’s call the whole thing a conundrum

But one complicating factor is that the Mauritians are actually breeding monkeys for export, rather than using wild-caught animals, which makes the whole situation seem uglier. The other complicating factor is the stringent conditions imposed on animal experimentation laboratories in the USA and UK which essentially mean that government legislation requires controlled breeding of research subjects.

A senior PETA researcher has called for this export to be ended. Alka Chandna sent an open letter to the Mauritian Prime Minister which said, ‘Macaque monkeys have shown impressive intellectual abilities. These highly sensitive animals will suffer unimaginable physical abuse and psychological torment in American laboratories. They will be caged and deprived of fresh air, sunshine, freedom of movement, the companionship of others and just about everything else that makes any life worth living.’

Mauritius courtesy of Selene Weijenberg at Flickr under a creative commons licence

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