Enviros expose lab monkey business

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2008:
Probably no one has ever mistaken the
National Geographic Society for an
antivivisection society–but one winner of the
2008 National Geographic Photo Contest, “Caged
monkeys await their fate at a medical laboratory
in Hubei Province, China,” by Li Feng, was an
image of a sort familiar to antivivisectionists.
The photo depicted dozens of small macaques in
shopping bag-like transportation cages seemingly
fashioned from chicken wire.
“The judges liked that this image
subverts the usual romanticized approach to
wildlife photography and more accurately reflects
the fate of many of the world’s animals,”
reported The National Geographic. “The sneaker
at the top provides scale and injects a human
being into the scene; the anonymity of the
wearer suggests concealment and complicity. The
structure of the cages, the horror of the
captivity, the crowded composition, and the
claustrophobic tension all add up to a sad and
compelling photo.”

The conservation mainstream was also
recently awakened to the depletion of wild monkey
populations in Southeast Asia to supply Chinese
laboratories by the work of the Earth Journalism
Network, a training project headed by Thai
Society of Environmental Journalists founder
James Fahn.
After nine years as a reporter and editor
on environmental beats for the Bangkok Nation,
also reporting for Newsweek and The Economist,
and a stint doing environmental program
development for the Ford Foundation, Fahn,
former CNN environmental reporter Gary Strieker,
and Sierra Club president Larry Fahn–James
Fahn’s cousin–formed EJN in 2006. Exposés of
monkey trafficking in Vietnam, Laos, and
Cambodia were among their first efforts. Five
in-depth articles produced by Vietnamese,
Laotian, and Cambodian journalists with EJN
support were distributed in 2007 and early 2008
by half a dozen Southeast Asian newspapers and
more than two dozen news web sites.
The EJN investigation produced further
hints that wild-caught monkeys are moving through
China to the U.S., as ANIMAL PEOPLE indicated
might be happening in a July/August 2007 cover
feature, based on a statistical analysis of
laboratory monkey sources and demand.
The EJN investigation started in May
2007, according to James Fahn, after “a group
of journalists affiliated with the Vietnam Forum
of Environmental Journalists approached EJN with
a proposal to support their research into the
alleged smuggling of long-tailed macaques between
Cambodia and Vietnam, using what appeared to be
false Laotian permits as cover.”
The EJN-supported findings first appeared
in Vietnamese newspapers in October 2007,
reaching the U.S. in translation several months
The Vietnamese project originators were Quoc Dung
of Tien Phong, Phuong Lieu of Dong Nai, and
Phuong Thao of Nhan. The primary authors of the
Cambodian material were Bun Khy, Reasmei
Kampuchea, and Kompong Thom. The Vietnamese
environmental group PanNature provided a
translated transcript to EJN that was edited
before publication in English by Marty Bergoffen
and James Fahn.
“Located in a remote place near Cambodia, in
Vietnam’s southwestern Tay Ninh province, the
wildlife breeding farm owned by Tan Hoi Dong Co.,
Ltd. is well known in Vietnam as one of the
first in Vietnam to obtain certification” by the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species,” the series opened. “But it is also an
essential transit site for the most sophisticated
and largest trans-border wildlife trafficking
network in Vietnam up to now.”
Two Vietnamese companies, Trung Viet and
NAFOVANNY, exported at least 2,700, 4,300, and
2,636 macaques to the U.S. in 2004-2006.
Trung Viet founder Tran Quy, the EJN team
reported, is also director of Tan Hoi Dong Co.,
and is now a partner of Primate Products Inc. of
the U.S. in building an $8 million laboratory to
do stem cell research on primates in Tay Ninh
NAFOVANNY has operated in Vietnam for 10 years,
the EJN team learned, and is 40% owned by the
Vietnamese government, but is “majority-owned by
VANNY, a Hong Kong company.”
Trung Viet initially tried to start a macaque
breeding farm in 2003, in Cat Ba National Park
in northern Vietnam, but this was blocked
because the park was under consideration to be
named a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Trung
Viet had already imported 5,000 macaques. When
the Cat Ba scheme failed, Trung Viet sold the
macaques to NAFOVANNY, the EJN team recounted.
This was the beginning of a quiet partnership,
EJN continued. While NAFOVANNY has been able to
import fewer than 1,000 macaques per year from
Cambodia, Trung Viet was able to import as many
as 21,853 in 2004-2006.
The EJN team found numerous discrepancies between
Vietnamese paperwork and the data that Vietnam
eventually provided to CITES about the macaque
Most notably, they found that “the whole set of
documents allowing Xay Savang Co., of Laos, to
export 80,000 wild animals to Trung Viet Co., was
confirmed as fake by Thongphath Vongmany, the
Vice Director of the Vietnamese Forestry
These documents enabled the export to Vietnam of
7,000 monkeys, 13,000 wild-caught snakes, and
60,000 wild-caught turtles.
The monkeys went to Trung Viet.
The paperwork appeared to have been altered from
a permit originally issued in April 2004 for the
transit of 1,450 monkeys from Malaysia through
Vietnam to Laos.
“Chinese companies prefer to buy monkeys
from Trung Viet over other networks,” the EJN
team reported, “because only Trung Viet can
obtain so-called ‘legal’ permits. In many
cases,” the EJN team continued, “Trung Viet was
not able to supply enough monkeys to fulfill the
permits. By purchasing the excess permits from
Trung Viet, the Chinese could convert smuggled
monkeys from other sources into legal ones. This
is reported to be the trick used by Tran Quy,
who established wildlife farms to make illegally
imported monkeys from Cambodia and other
South-East Asian countries appear to be legally

Cambodian captures

“Investment companies have set up monkey
breeding farms at over 10 sites in Cambodia,”
the EJN Cambodian team found. “It is suspected
that these breeding efforts are phony, resulting
in a serious loss of wild Cambodian monkeys.”
For example, the Cambodian Ministry of
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries authorized a
company called the Golden China Group to buy or
catch 5,000 adult monkeys, the EJN team
reported. Instead of trying to capture monkeys
themselves, the Golden China Group “just set up
places to buy monkeys from local people,” the
EJN team found.
Cambodian regional environment Department
chief Heng Huot told the EJN team that “The
number of crab-eating monkeys in the inundated
forests surrounding the Tonle Sap Lake has gone
down by 70% to 80%,” since the laboratory monkey
supply companies became locally active.
Locals typically “force the monkeys onto
one or two trees by cutting down the surrounding
trees. Then, they spread nets around the trees
to catch the monkeys,” the EJN investigators
learned. This accelerates deforestation and
human encroachment on wildlife habitat.
“Although the companies have been buying
monkeys for three to five years” the EJN team
observed, “they do not seem to catch enough of
them,” hinting that the quotas may be ignored
wherever possible.
Reported the EJN investigators, “A
Forestry Administration official said there was
corruption at all of the monkey farms, even
though each farm has been inspected by Forestry
Administration officers. In an announcement
issued by the ministry, the official states
that, ‘Raising and breeding crab-eating monkeys
is aimed at producing baby monkeys for export.’
But the companies have secretly bought and
exported adult monkeys without following the law.”
The Golden China Group, “which recently
transferred its license to Angkor Primates Centre
Inc.,” EJN said, has as many as 10,000 macaques
housed at each of two Chinese-supervised farms.
Another two farms are operated by the Mony
Company, with 3,000 to 10,000 monkeys each. A
third firm, the Chhang Huor Company, reportedly
has 7,000 monkeys.
A Forestry Administration official who
visited the Golden China Group monkey facilities
in Shenzhen, China at company expense told the
EJN team that, “In Shenzhen province, there are
farms with tens of thousands of monkeys, most of
whom are suspected to have been imported from
Cambodia. He said the company explained that it
was not true that they exported monkeys to China
so that their brains could be eaten.”
According to the unnamed official, “The
company explained there was a single monkey whose
brain was eaten alive. It said they were only
raising the monkeys for export to the U.S. for
use in laboratories.”
The rumor about the monkeys being sent to
China to be eaten, gruesome as it is, appears
to be part of the cover for the traffic. U.S.
law prohibits importing wild-caught monkeys for
research. And neither crab-eating nor rhesus
macaques, the species most often sold to U.S.
labs from China, may be legally hunted or
captured from the wild within China. Importing
macaques nominally for consumption may provide an
opportunity for “monkey-laundering,” since a
monkey who has purportedly been eaten could
disappear from any existing records, yet perhaps
be resurrected as “captive-bred” by a monkey
broker, and therefore legal for use in breeding
or export.
A case of illegal monkey capturing
reported in February 2008 by the Phuket Gazette
hinted at the possible existence of a similar
trade running from Thailand to South Korea. Arun
Kertphetch, 38, was arrested in the act of
capturing monkeys at the Wan Village Monkey
Forest, a local tourist attraction. Two alleged
confederates escaped but were sought by police.
The suspect claimed to be just their driver.
“Police collected as evidence two monkey
cages, 20 nets, a selection of various traps,
hunting equipment, and nuts and some bananas,
which were used as bait,” the Phukett Gazette
said, adding that “Arun said that he overheard
the other two men saying that they would catch
monkeys and export them to Korea” to be eaten.
However, while dogs and cats are eaten
in Korea, monkey-eating is not common there,
and has historically been common only in the
parts of China that are directly north of
Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and
Myanmar, more than 1,000 miles from the Korean
South Korea does, however, have a
booming biotechnology industry, which in recent
years has been importing macaques for lab use
from some of the same Shenzhen suppliers who sell
macaques to the U.S.

Malaysia involved

Malaysian natural resources and
environment minister Seri Azmi Khalid on February
2, 2008 told the New Straits Times that he has
decided against lifting a ban on exporting
long-tailed macaques, in effect since 1984.
Seri Azmi Khalid in August 2007 floated
the idea of selling nuisance macaques captured in
urban areas to China for laboratory use and human
consumption, but backed away from it after it
drew adverse public response.
Former Malaysian Wildlife and National
Parks Department chief Musa Nordin, who retired
in October 2006, admitted to Malaysia Star
reporters Hilary Chew and S.S. Yoga that he was
“indirectly involved” in a scheme to export as
many as 20,000 macaques per year to buyers
including the Kunming Primate Research Centre,
affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
“The center was set up in 2005 as a
research base for experiments against infectious
diseases and bio-terrorism,” Chew and Yoga
Seri Azmi Khalid said the export scheme
was cancelled because, “A study of 2,000
macaques in urban areas, which began several
months ago, found that 80% of them were
infected,” with diseases including tuberculosis,
malaria, hepatitis, and simian AIDS, and that
“Only half the remainder were suitable for
But an informant told the EJN team that
there is nonetheless a substantial traffic in
wild-caught macaques from Malaysia, who are
“anaesthetized, bound and gagged in order to keep
them silent,” and flown in containers labeled
“vegetables” to nations including Vietnam for
resale to China.
From e-mails posted by unnamed
“conservation experts” to a United Nations
Development Program discussion forum on wildlife
conservation in Vietnam, the EJN team identified
Indonesia as another apparent major conduit of
illegally wild-caught monkeys to the U.S., but
acknowledged that hard evidence is lacking.
Long-tailed macaque exports from
Indonesia have more more than doubled recently,
rising from 2,000 in 2000 to 4,100 in 2007, with
a 2008 quota of 5,100, according to ProFauna
ProFauna Indonesia noted that this is
only one of many threats to the Indonesian
macaque population. Deforestation has reduced
habitat for all wildlife, forcing macaques into
adapting to urban dwelling. About 5,000 macaques
per year are killed as nuisances in Kalimantan
province, according to Profauna. As many as
3,000 a year are eaten in cities including
Jakarta, Medan, and Palembang, ProFauna
estimated, while about 50 macaques per month are
sold as pets at Javanese bird markets.

African monkeys

Monkey trafficking to laboratories has
resurfaced as an issue in parts of Africa, after
fear of importing diseases such as simian AIDS
and the Ebola and Marburg viruses inhibited buyer
interest for about 20 years.
Gerald Tenywa of the Kampala New Vision
disclosed in February 2008 that a company called
Navina Exports had used an expired permit to
export 300 monkeys to the Chumakov Institute of
Poliomyelitis in Moscow. The Uganda Wildlife
Authority had authorized Navina Exports managing
director Yekoyada Nuwagaba to export monkeys in
2007, however, and UWA acting chief Sam Mwandha
told Tenywa that Nuwagaba had been given verbal
permission to continue.
The export operation “was exposed,”
Tenywa wrote, “when primate trapper Ronald
Sendagire was arrested with 16 monkeys at Gerenge
on the shores of Lake Victoria. The monkeys were
loaded in sacks and cages. This attracted the
attention of residents,” who tried
unsuccessfully to stop the captures.
Demand rising
An especially dramatic indication of the
recent rise in laboratory demand for monkeys was
disclosed in February 2008 by Dave Howden of
Students for Transparency in Animal Research and
Testing at McGill University in Montreal. Howden
found that McGill University laboratories used
just 24 nonhuman primates in 2003, but used 268
in 2004, 664 in 2005, and 919 in 2006.
Obtaining the information via freedom of
information requests took Howden more than two
years, reported Jennifer Markowitz of The
McGill Daily.
Laboratory use of macaques has increased
worldwide partly because bioengineering has
increased the numbers of products that are ready
for testing before going on the market, and
partly because of intensified research about
biological agents which might be used as weapons.

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