Monkeys in cage

Monkey Madness – Stop the Importation of Primates for Research

baboon
Image Courtesy of BUAV

Did you know that Australia is currently home to three government-funded primate breeding facilities – the National Marmoset and Macaque Facilities at Churchill, Victoria and the National Baboon Facility in Sydney, all of which breed animals specifically for the purpose of being used in research?

Watch our You Tube video “Monkey Madness

Since 2000, despite this “ready supply”, eleven permits have been granted to import primates into Australia for research.  Data obtained from CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species – to which Australia is a signatory), has shown that between 2000-2015, Australia has imported:

  • 331 pig-tailed macaques (Macaca nemestrina) listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) Red List of Threatened Species as vulnerable to extinction (from Indonesia)
  • 250 crab-eating macaques (Macaca fascicularis) listed on the IUCN Red List from Indonesia
  • 71 owl monkeys (Aotus lemurinus grisembra) listed on the IUCN Red List from the US.[15]
  • 37 marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) from France
  • 1 marmoset from Switzerland
  • 10 long-tailed macaques from France

Captured from the Wild

Monkeys
Image Courtesy of BUAV

The National Health & Medical Research Council’s policy on the care and use of non-human primates for scientific purposesstates “Non-human primates imported from overseas must not be taken from wild populations and must be accompanied by documentation to certify their status.” (4) Similarly, Indonesia has an official ban on the export of wild-caught macaques. Ironically, there is no restriction on the number of monkeys who can be trapped in the wild to replenish breeding stocks.
In April 2009, the British Union Against Vivisection (BUAV) published a report on its undercover investigation: Indonesia: The trade in primates for research. Not surprisingly, the report concluded that the ban on wild-caught macaques is a sham.

Whilst the last import of primates for medical research from Indonesia to Australia took place in 2009, imports continued until 2014 elsewhere, including the United States. Of concern, media reports indicate that in November 2019, a permit has been proposed for capture and export of wild long-tailed macaques in Indonesia to China and the US.

Conservation Status

Pig-tailed macaques are classified as Appendix II under CITES, meaning that “although not necessarily now threatened with extinction may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is subject to strict regulation in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.”(5) With Indonesian forests being destroyed by logging, conversion of land for agricultural use and human settlement, continual trade in these primates for research will further exacerbate the losses from habitat destruction.

Bogor Agricultural University

The BUAV report also documents conditions at Bogor Agricultural University (IPB) – where Australia’s imports were sourced from!

Extract from BUAV Report

The BUAV investigators visited one holding facility at the IPB which they were told infant and juvenile long-tailed macaques who had been taken there after they had been trapped on Tinjil Island. The facility contained a number of small rooms, each containing one small chain link pen housing around 15-20 monkeys. The pens were a barren environment with a metal grid floor. There was no substrate for the monkeys to play or dig in. There was virtually no enrichment, just a few perches.

The monkeys could only climb the side of the pens and there was nowhere for them to hide from each other or people. The pens were indoors so there was no fresh air and limited sunlight through one window. Only one pen was seen to have a water bottle attached to it. The others had free standing bowls made from either rubber or plastic. In at least one pen, this bowl was empty, leaving the monkeys no access to water. The only evidence of food was a few pieces of monkey chow seen on the wire floor of one pen. In other pens no food was visible.

The areas underneath the pens were covered in waste and what appeared to be monkey chow biscuits that had fallen through the grid floor. Mould could be seen growing on some of the food. This was a stressful environment in which these monkeys were forced to live. These conditions were in stark contrast to living freely in family groups in a natural environment on Tinjil Island.“(6)

Added to this fear and misery are the holding pens at airports and long arduous flights to destination countries – all this before the research begins!

There is NO justification for Australia to support this international trade in cruelty and perpetuating bad science.

Australian researchers should be using non-animal methodologies that are far more relevant to studying human disease rather than trying to replicate a disease in a species that is genetically different to our own and expecting to achieve accurate or indicative results for humans.

Instead of logically reducing and ultimately eliminating the use of primates, Australian researchers are utilizing those already bred within our three established colonies, and still importing more!

Current situation

In 2011, Labor MP Mike Symon presented a petition of over 10,000 signatures to the House of Representatives calling for a ban on the importation of primates for research. Mr Symon’s speech can be read here.

In November 2012, Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon introduced a private members bill to the Senate. HRA was invited to attend their media conference.

Unfortunately, this bill was unsuccessful.

In November 2015 the bill was re-presented and referred to inquiry by the Senate Environment and Communications Committee.

The outcome was that primate imports continue to be permitted, on the premise of increasing genetic diversity.

We need your help!

Primates are already subjected to highly invasive experiments. Long distance transportation adds even further stress and suffering of these sentient and highly cognitive animal.

Write to the following ministers and ask that the Australian Government impose an immediate ban on the importation of primates for research:

The Honourable Sussan Ley

Minister for the Environment
House of Representatives
PO Box 6022
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
Email

The Hon. Greg Hunt

Minister for Health
House of Representatives
PO Box 6022
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
Email: Minister.Hunt@health.gov.au

If you are not already a member, please consider joining Humane Research Australia. For a small annual fee of $30 you can add your voice to ours in lobbying for effective change.

Whilst HRA opposes the use of ALL primates (as well as other animals) in research, we believe that this ban will be a significant step toward reducing the suffering of many animals and assisting efforts to end the international trade.


  1. Policy on the Use of Non-Human Primates for Scientific Purposes, NHMRC, page 5, item 7.
  2. CITES Text of the Convention: http://cites.org/eng/disc/text.shtml as quoted by BUAV Indonesia: the trade in primates for research. 2009.
  3. Indonesia. The trade in primates for research A BUAV investigation, April 2009, page 18.

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