Rising lab primate demand sparks renewed international traffic

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2000:

PORTLAND, Ore.; SAN ANTONIO––A year ago researchers and sanctuarians wondered what to do with increasing numbers of nonhuman primates surplused by labs as too costly to keep and too little in demand to sell.

Now, says Science reporter Jon Cohen, “Demand for rhesus macaques, the animal of choice for AIDS researchers, far outstrips the supply.”

The National Institutes of Health in mid-1999 moved to stimulate breeding by elevating the San Antoniobased Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research to Regional Primate Research Center status––the first new one since the original seven were designated in 1962. The San Antonio facility has 3,400 baboons, 240 chimpanzees, and about 150 other nonhuman primates, mostly rhesus macaques.

Health Canada downsized its macaque colony in 1998-1999, sending about 240 monkeys to other institutions, and had discussed possibly disposing of them all. The remaining 500 healthy macaques were kept, however, and were moved into new group housing facilities late last year. About 150 macaques with behavioral problems, mostly males, are still kept alone.

Science on January 14 disclosed that Oregon Regional Primate Research Center staff scientist Anthony Chan and team in September 1999 produced a cloned female rhesus macaque named Tetra, via embryo-splitting.

“Identical primates are closer to humans than other animals, such as mice, and fewer would be needed for scientific research on human diseases,” wrote Portland Oregonian science reporter Oz Hopkins Koglin.

But while cloning may eventually take over the lab primate market, the global monkey traffic is booming.

Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories, of Kagoshima, Japan, in January stocked a new lab in Everett, Washington, with 119 macaques reportedly bred in China for use in studies of cancer, arthritis, and osteoporosis.

The Medical Research Council of South Africa is fundraising to import and begin breeding 300 olive baboons to be purchased from the Institute for Primate Research in Kenya, Fiona Macleod of the Johannesburg Mail & Guardian revealed in February.

Primate breeding and export operations are reportedly also expanding in Israel, Spain, and Mauritius, whose two brokers sold just 50 monkeys in 1985 but now sell about 6,000 a year.

“Israel is a waystation for many African and Asian connections,” Washington D.C. primate protection activist Linda Howard told ANIMAL PEOPLE. African and Asian dealers have in the recent past introduced diseases to captive colonies by mixing wild-caught monkeys into shipments.

Going against the trend, the British monkey-breeding and importing firm Shamrock Farms announced on March 10 that it will go out of business as soon as it relocates the undisclosed number of monkeys now on hand.

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