Fates that really “scare the monkeys” of Guangzhou, China
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2003:
GUANGZHOU, BOSTON– Among the less visible effects of the
2002-2003 SARS outbreak in China may be a claimed shortage of monkeys
in U.S. laboratories.
Of the 99,939 nonhuman primates imported into the U.S. from
1995 through 2002, 26,134 came from China, according to an analysis
of trade data by Linda Howard of the Aesop Project.
The total included almost exactly a third of the 78,903
crab-eating macaques acquired by U.S. labs and lab suppliers.
The U.S. bought more monkeys from China than from any other
nation. Next were Mauritius, furnishing 22,695 monkeys; Indonesia,
17,379; and Vietnam, 13,535. SARS put most of those sources at
least temporarily off limits.
Among the more horrifying possibilities raised by an
ambiguous description of the situation published on July 18 in the
South China Morning Post is that Chinese-reared crab-eating macaques,
if excluded from lab use, may be eaten.
Wrote South China Morning Post Guangzhou correspondent Leu
Siew Ying, “About 10,000 rhesus monkeys and thousands of snakes held
at wild animal farms in Guangzhou are waiting for health authorities
to determine their fate. Depending on whether or not they were
responsible for transmitting SARS, the inmates will head either to
laboratories or dinner tables.”
Presumably what Leu Siew Ying was told, and wrote, was that
the monkeys would go to labs and the snakes to dinner tables if all
are cleared of carrying SARS. Presumably they will be killed and
burned if infected.
But what if the health findings are potentially compromising
to science enough that the monkeys continue to be excluded from
export, yet are not barred from the Guangzhou live meat markets?
“Some restaurants in Ping Shang City, Guangxi Province,
near the border between China and Vietnam, promote ‘Eating Monkey
Brain Alive’ to attract customers,” asserted The Apple Daily tabloid
of Hong Kong on September 20, 2001. “Those restaurants sell a
monkey for HK$380,” the anonymous purported eyewitness account said.
“There were 2-3 monkeys in a cage. Whilst the customers were picking
their monkey, the others in the cage were trying to push one of them
out in order to keep themselves alive.
“The cook will force-feed the monkey with rice wine until it
is drunk. Then he will tie the monkey’s limbs together, chop the
skull off, and put the whole monkey in a large bowl to serve.
Customers then scoop out the raw monkey brain with spoons and the
rest of the body will be cooked.”
Photographs accompanied the article, but offered little to
substantiate the details.
The Apple Daily might be accused of sensationalism. A
similar article published in August 2001 by the Indian tabloids Asian
Age and The Deccan Chronicle turned out to have been completely
fabricated by the anonymous source–but in 1998 the very conservative
and highly reliable Wall Street Journal published on page one a
comparable account from Indonesia.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare found in a March
1998 survey of 874 residents of Beijing and 864 residents of Shanghai
that 88.3% considered eating a live monkey’s brains to be
unacceptably cruel. Only 35%, however, seemed to believe that
notifying public officials would bring an effective response.
Live brain-eating may be among the few fates of monkeys more
horrific than some laboratory experiments.
Appalled by the suffering of rhesus macaques in labs,
documented by the Blue Cross of India and International Primate
Protection League, then-Indian prime minister Morarji Desai in 1977
banned the export of nonhuman primates.
For the next 25 years that meant mainly that U.S. labs had to
import rhesus macaques from other nations where they were slightly
Recently, however, as Boston Globe staff reporter Anne Barnard
explained on August 9, “Public health crises ranging from AIDS to
the fear of bioterrorism have led to a monkey shortage that has
scientists paying $5,000 to $10,000 per monkey,” five times as much
as in 1997. Scientists are also “buying one another’s ‘used’
primates, even trading in future rights to rhesus macaques in the
womb,” said Barnard.
Rhesus macaques are the species most used in labs.
“Eight federally funded centers breed the monkeys and carry
out experiments for researchers around the world, housing more than
15,000 rhesus macaques, up from about 12,000 in 1996,” Barnard
wrote. “Still, ‘supply is not keeping up with demand,’ said Dr.
Jerry Robinson, director of the National Primate Research Centers
Program at the National Institutes of Health. NIH-funded AIDS
research alone used more than 2,000 monkeys in 2001–200 more than
the national centers can produce in a year.”
Altogether, U.S. researchers used 49,382 nonhuman privates
in 2001, down from 57,518 in 2000, which was the second-highest
total since record-keeping began in 1973.
Crab-eating macaques are the second most popular species for lab use.
“Scientists are asking for $100 million from the NIH to
expand and modernize the eight research centers, as well as pay for
new background research on other species, such as the cynomolgus
macacque and the African green vervet, that scientists could use
instead of rhesus monkeys,” Barnard said.
U.S. & British lab trends
British researchers used 40,000 nonhuman primates between
1990 and 2000, according to the Home Office, but the species
favored in Britain were marmosets and tamarins.
The advisory Animal Procedures Committee on July 1
recommended that Britain should deal with the monkey shortage by
phasing out experiments on nonhuman primates entirely.
“The committee fears that the current number of primates used
in experiments will grow as drug companies search for new drugs to
combat diseases of old age,” wrote Guardian environment
correspondent Paul Brown.
The likelihood of a primate phase-out in Britain may be low.
Lab use of animals reached an eight-year high in 2002, the Home
Office announced in July 2003. Of the 2,732,700 total procedures
performed, 2,293,200 involved mice and rats; 191,100 involved fish;
136,000 involved birds; and 27,300 involved dogs, cats, horses,
and monkeys. Britain no longer allows experiments on great apes.
Among the species, 710,000 animals had been genetically modified.
U.S. use of counted species:
Animal Top yr Peak total 2001
Dogs 1979 211,104 70,082
Cats 1974 74,259 22,755
Nonhuman primates 1987 61,392 49,382
Guinea pigs 1985 598,903 256,193
Hamsters 1976 503,590 167,231
Rabbits 1987 554,385 267,351
Farm animals 1991 214,759 161,658
Other tracked anmls 1992 529,308 242,251
All tracked species 1985 2,153,787 1,236,903
2001 is the most recent fiscal year for which the USDA has
Total U.S. use of animals in laboratories is believed to be
trending up, as an ever-greater percentage of experiments use rats,
mice, and birds, who are not officially counted.