Mauritius is one of the world's largest exporters of primates for research. Recent figures show that in 2013, 6,054 primates were exported from Mauritius to research laboratories around the world, including to the USA, UK, France Spain and Germany. This trade is partly being driven by demand from Europe; there has been a 17% increase in the number of primates imported into the EU in 2013 than compared with 2012.
Historically, the supply of long-tailed macaques from Mauritius has been a wild-caught trade; however, due to international concern and restrictions by countries regarding the importation of wild-caught primates, Mauritius established large-scale breeding farms and wild monkeys were trapped and imprisoned in concrete pens to produce babies for the international research industry and the trade switched primarily to one involving the offspring of wild-caught primates.
The UK plays a key role in this trade as the largest European, and world's second largest importer of long-tailed macaques from Mauritius. In 2013, the UK imported 1,077 primates from Mauritius, an increase of 13% from 2012. Monkeys imported by the UK from Mauritius continue to include the offspring of wild-caught parents. The most recent figures supplied by the Home Office show that in 2012, the UK imported 953 long-tailed macaques from the breeding farms of Mauritius, 85% of whom were the offspring of at least one wild-caught parent. So, despite a widely publicised ban on the use of wild-caught primates in UK research since 1997, there is no such ban on the offspring of wild-caught primates or primates exported from farms which trap wild primates for breeding purposes.
There is growing national and international awareness and concern surrounding the trapping, breeding and exportation of long-tailed macaques from Mauritius. Leading religious, socio-cultural groups and NGO's in Mauritius and in the UK have all expressed their objection to this trade. Concerns have also been expressed from around the world, including prominent Indian politician and environment campaigner, Mrs Maneka Gandhi as well as by members of the UK Parliament.
This week, a team from the BUAV is in Mauritius to raise awareness and concern regarding another issue that will impact negatively on the country's primate population. A new bill - the Pre-Clinical Research Bill - is due to be presented to the Mauritius Parliament which will promote the use of animals in preclinical research. The introduction of such a bill, with the establishment of experimentation facilities in the country, will inflict suffering and misery on sentient animals; in particular the country's native population of long-tailed macaque which is likely be the main species used in the research facilities.
In addition to ethical objections to animal experimentation, there are also strong scientific arguments against the use of animals in both research and testing. Because of biological differences between humans and other species, as well as the unnatural conditions in which the animals must live, the results of such research cannot be safely and reliably extrapolated to humans.
Non-human primates are regularly used in pre-clinical research; however, this is by no means proof of necessity. Primates used in these toxicity tests are forced to consume, inhale or be injected with chemicals that may cause vomiting, pain, convulsions, collapse of their vascular system, shock, difficulty in normal physiologic processes such as breathing, and slow death. Whilst there is little scientific evidence that such experiments, including those on primates, are predictive of human effects, there are numerous examples of where they have not been. 92% of drugs fail in human trials because they are not safe or do not work, even though they have 'passed' tests such as these involving primates. Sometimes these failures can be catastrophic, such as the Northwick Park Hospital disaster in 2006 in the UK, in which six human volunteers nearly died testing a drug that had shown no effects in monkeys at 500 times the dose.
There are valid and arguably more successful alternatives to using non-human primates and other animals in pre-clinical testing. Due to recent advances in technology, there are a wide range of more human-relevant approaches to studying, understanding and ultimately contributing to the cure of many diseases. In this modern age, there is simply no excuse for the acceptance of continued testing on non-human primates to continue.
The BUAV believes strongly that the establishment of primate testing facilities in Mauritius will simply encourage further use of these animals at a time when their use is being challenged. We urge the people of Mauritius not to allow its country to be part of an industry that inflicts such great pain and suffering on primates. India banned the export of its population of macaque monkeys for research in 1978 following a widespread outcry. We call upon Mauritius to follow India's lead and take a stand against this monkey cruelty.