From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2007:
HONG KONG–Is a small amount of monkey-eating in southern
China covering for a large amount of monkey trafficking from the wild
to U.S. labs?
Among the reasons for vigilance:
* Monkey-trapping and smuggling appear to be increasing
throughout Southeast Asia, allegedly for Chinese markets. Yet
reports from within China indicate no rise in monkey consumption,
amid increasing efforts to suppress eating contraband wildlife.
* U.S. lab use of nonhuman primates has more than doubled,
from 25,534 in 2002 and 25,834 in 2003, to 54,998 in 2004, and
57,531 in 2005, the latest year for which the USDA Animal & Plant
Inspection Service has complete data.
* Increased Chinese monkey exports to the U.S. appear to
account for more than half of the increased U.S. use, but the
numbers of monkeys reportedly in Chinese breeding colonies are not
nearly enough to produce the numbers that U.S. users are buying.
U.S. law prohibits importing wild-caught monkeys for
research. Both crab-eating and rhesus macaques, the most often
imported species, are protected in China. Neither may be legally
hunted or captured from the wild.
Yet macaque dealers in southern China have emerged–with government
help –to fill the U.S. lab demand.
Even if the Chinese dealers have enough macaques now to produce the
volume sold, where did they get their breeding stock?
Imports for consumption may be one method. A monkey who has
purportedly been eaten could disappear from any existing records,
but perhaps could be resurrected as “captive-bred,” therefore legal
for use in breeding or export.
Questionable numbers surfaced in a July 7, 2007 report about
the Chinese monkey business by Stephen Chen of the South China
Xie Liping, owner of the Guangxi Weimei Bio-Tech Company in
Nanning, “runs one of the biggest primate breeding centres in
Guangxi, a region that produces half of the nation’s monkeys used
for experiments,” Chen wrote. “She started four years ago with
fewer than 100 crab-eating macaques and now has more than 12,000.
When a huge expansion project–covering the equivalent of 31 soccer
fields–is completed next year, 50 barracks wrapped in shiny steel
bars will be home to 20,000 monkeys.”
But “fewer than 100 crab-eating macaques” cannot breed up to
12,000 in four years, or 20,000 in five years. A crab-eating
macaque does not reach estrus until age four, and bears only one
infant per year.
Thus, even if most of Xie Liping’s macaques were females,
they could at most have increased to about 500. If Xie Liping has
12,000 now, most must have been bought from other sources.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service records show that Guangxi Weimei
Bio-Tech sold 600 monkeys to the U.S. in 2006. That might be
plausible, but would leave no surplus for expanded breeding.
Xie Liping did not allow Chen to visit her breeding center,
saying that her monkeys could not be exposed to human germs.
“Among Weimei’s 12,000 monkeys,” Chen reported, “3,000 will
be selected, quarantined, and sold to the U.S. this year.”
Continued Chen, “The Weimei breeding centre is one of the
many rapidly growing number of farms on the mainland for raising
monkeys, with most found in Guangxi and Guangdong. Stimulated by
soaring demand from U.S. bio-defence programs, supported by
governments at various levels, and heavily funded by private
investors, the scale of primate farms on the mainland has tripled
within half a decade.”
According to Chen, “The central government got the ball
rolling in 2002 with the release of the nation’s first
primate-breeding standards. Beijing, Hubei, and Guang-dong
provinces followed a year later, publishing their own guidelines.
Similar work started in Guangxi in 2004,” two years after Xie Liping
founded her business.
Guangxi Department of Science and Technology director of
experimental affairs Wei Gang told Chen that there are eight
registered monkey farms in Guangxi, housing about 40,000 monkeys in
2006, but rapidly expanding, with several new breeders entering the
business. Monkeys from Guangxi “are also sold to the European Union,
Japan, South Korea and Taiwan,” Chen wrote.
Wei Gang confirmed past irregularities. Before government
licensing began in 2001, he told Chen, “Some [monkey breeders] even
bought wild species on the black market and sold them as domestic
On July 7, 2007, the same day Chen’s article appeared,
Malaysian wildlife department criminal division deputy director
Celescoriano Razond capped a two-week probe by seizing 950
crab-eating macques and arresting four men, three Malaysians and an
Indonesian, on a plantation in Pontian, Johor.
“The monkeys, captured from the jungles of the central state
of Pahang and the southern state of Johor, are believed to have been
headed for either China or Holland,” wrote Meera Vijayan of the
Malaysia Star. Razond told her that those going to China would
probably be eaten, while those going to the Netherlands would be
used in labs.
“The monkeys were found in a pitiful condition in filthy
cages and blue gunny sacks. Around 100 dead monkeys were found piled
in a heap nearby,” Vijayan noted.
Monkeys are still eaten in China, but the practice is
discouraged, as China Daily discussed on December 13, 2006,
reporting that “A man narrowly escaped arrest after illegally selling
monkey flesh in Haikou, capital of south China’s Hainan province.”
The single incident was considered nationally newsworthy.
“The man beat a gong to advertise his wares,” and was
photographed in the act, “but fled before the public security bureau
could apprehend him,” according to the Nanguo Metropolitan
newspaper, whose article China Daily summarized. “The vendor
claimed his monkey flesh was fresh from the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous
Region. The meat sold quickly,” China Daily added, but some
passers-by “disapproved, saying it is cruel to kill a monkey and
sell it as food.”
Continued China Daily, “An official from the Haikou Forestry
Public Security Bureau said killing monkeys and selling their meat
breaks the laws protecting wild animals. If apprehended, the vendor
will be fined six to ten times the sum he made from his sales.”
U.S. imports of crab-eating mac-aques increased from 14,778
in 2001 to 27,270 in 2005, according to CITES documents obtained by
Chen. Imports from China rose from 3,266 to 12,878.
Ten of the top 20 monkey exporters to the U.S. in 2006 were
Chinese companies, according to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service records
obtained by the International Primate Protection League. Of the
11,712 monkeys they sent to the U.S., just one firm, Guang-dong
Scientific Instruments & Materials, provided 5,494.
Mauritian firms sent 4,191, Viet-namese firms sent 3,596,
and exporters from Cambodia (1,532), Indonesia (913), and the
Philippines (368) rounded out the list.
Altogether, the U.S. imported 26,338 nonhuman primates in
2006, a slight decrease from 2005. At least 23,756 (90%) of the
2005 total were for lab use.
“Unfortunately many of these monkeys have already been killed
in bio-warfare or infectious disease experiments,” said IPPL founder
Shirley McGreal. “Most were crab-eating macaques. This species may
be doomed [in the wild] if wholesale trade predation is not
controlled,” McGreal warned, noting that U.S. imports account for
only part of the trade.
“Some U.S. and European users are exporting their research to
foreign countries with relaxed or no animal protection laws or
enforcement,” McGreal pointed out, “such as two U.S. labs,” the
Washington National Primate Center and the Southwest Foundation for
Biomedical Research, “which are setting up branches in Nepal.”
Both IPPL and the Australian organization Primates Helping
Primates have recently spotlighted the efforts of Animal Nepal and
the Wildlife Watch Group of Nepal to draw attention to the Nepalese
projects. Nepalese animal advocates contend that the monkey labs
operate contrary to traditional Hindu and Buddhist teachings.
McGreal helped to win increased protection for slow lorises,
a small nocturnal primate native to much of Southeast Asia, at the
June 2007 Conference of the Parties to the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species, held in the Netherlands.
Delegates from the 170-odd member nations agreed at request of
Cambodia to elevate the slow loris to Appendix I status, meaning
that the animal is internationally recognized as endangered, and may
not be commercially sold across national boundaries.
The major threat to slow lorises, however, other
than from habitat loss, is from the traditional medicine industry,
a formidable foe, but much less so than U.S. government-funded
primate research. Some slow lorises have also been sold as pets,
chiefly in Japan.
IPPL and other primate protection groups received only a
deferred promise of consideration of a CITES listing for Barbary
macaques, the North African species whose colony at Gibralter are
the only wild monkeys in Europe. While Barbary macaques are rarely
used in labs, there appears to be considerable resistance in many
nations to protecting any macaques, as a possible step toward
protecting other species whose trade might cover for trade in the
The increasing lab demand for macaques meanwhile has
encouraged Puerto Rican trappers to intensify efforts to capture
feral rhesus macaques and red monkeys. The monkeys were introduced
to Puerto Rico to be bred for research more than 80 years ago. The
National Humane Review, formerly published by the American Humane
Association, mentioned efforts to extirpate them in the 1930s.
Estimating the present monkey population to be about 1,000,
the Puerto Rican government has invested $450,000 in the present
capture campaign, according to Danica Coto of Associated Press.
The current price of a macaque for lab use is about $500 on
the global market.