Integral to a discussion on the ethics of primate research is consideration of ethical concerns related to the purchasing of primates and the retirement of primates (the “before and after” aspects of research). Thousands of primates are imported each year from what have appropriately been termed “monkey factory farms” in southeast Asia; monkeys are also captured from the wild in Mauritius. These monkeys spend days in transport, enduring considerable stress as they are held in small crates and their food and water intake is restricted. Research has documented that it takes months for the monkeys’ physiological systems to return to baseline levels (1, 2). Once these monkeys arrive at our shores, they are warehoused in facilities like Primate Products, Incorporated, where the NIH’s own investigation (following a PETA investigation) uncovered serious noncompliances with federal guidelines—including inadequate veterinary care and failure to conduct surgeries aseptically. A discussion on ethical use of primates should certainly be concerned with the primate transport pipeline and the primate supplier’s history with respect to animal welfare.
1. Honess, P. E., Johnson, P. J., & Wolfensohn, S. E. (2004). A study of behavioural responses of non-human primates to air transport and re-housing. Laboratory Animals, 38(2), 119-132.
2. Kagira, J. M., Ngotho, M., Thuita, J. K., Maina, N. W., & Hau, J. (2007). Hematological changes in vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus aethiops) during eight months’ adaptation to captivity. American journal of primatology, 69(9), 1053-1063.
Dr. Hanan Bassyouni, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary