Animal Rights

This Popular Island Destination Is Exporting Monkeys for Cruel Experiments

Mauritius is one of the world's largest suppliers of non-human primates for inhumane medical experiments.

A long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) with baby.
Photo Credit: Tony Prince/Shutterstock

Mauritius, a small island in the Indian Ocean, is a dream holiday destination for tourists from all over the world. It is famous for its beautiful beaches, lagoons, tropical climate, heritage sites, lush forests and wildlife. Yet, this idyllic location is also infamous for a sinister reason—the cruel exploitation of its population of monkeys. Mauritius is one of the world’s largest participants in the cruel trade of supplying non-human primates for experiments. In 2016, 8,245 long-tailed macaques were exported from Mauritius to the USA, Canada and Europe with 3,522 imported by the USA, the largest importer of monkeys from Mauritius.

In Mauritius, the long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis) lives freely. However, the species is not considered indigenous, despite having been well-established on the island for about 400 years. Although the species is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), there exists no legislation to protect the primates of Mauritius. Instead, they are widely persecuted and exploited.

Historically, monkeys were trapped in the wild to be shipped overseas. Following international condemnation of the trade in wild-caught primates, tens of thousands of primates are now held in farms across Mauritius. Many of these animals were captured from the wild and are now imprisoned in these farms and used for breeding. Denied their freedom in the lush foliage of their jungle homes, these individuals spend their lives behind bars, on concrete. Their offspring are transported as ‘cargo’ in small wooden crates on airplanes to laboratories around the world to feed the international research industry.

Tourism is a key pillar of the economy of Mauritius and contributes significantly to the economic growth of the island. Mauritius is also promoting the island’s image as a green, eco-friendly tourist destination. The reputation of Mauritius as a country where the environment is valued is being put at risk by the export of monkeys for cruel experiments. Added to this is the introduction of recent regulations that will, for the first time, allow such experiments to be carried out on the island itself. The main species to be used in the research will be the country’s population of long-tailed macaques.

It cannot be argued that the economic benefits of the monkey trade and potential revenue from experiments are more important than tourism. Even a brief glance at the figures shows this controversial trade, worth less than 2 percent of Mauritian export, is economically insignificant compared with the income that Mauritius receives from its tourism industry. It is well-established that if a country develops a reputation for unkind treatment of animals, it has a very strong negative effect on tourism.

An additional factor to consider which is equally puzzling is that Hinduism is the largest religion in Mauritius. The country has the third highest percentage of Hindus in the world after Nepal and India. Lord Hanuman, the monkey god, is one of the most popular idols in the Hindu religion and is worshipped as a symbol of physical strength, perseverance and devotion. The trade in primates on Mauritius clearly is contrary to the very concept of Hindu culture and society which emphasises the spiritual equality of all living beings.

There are concerns that the introduction of animal experiments to Mauritius is primarily to provide a new market for the primate breeding companies and a reaction to problems with airlines refusing to transport primates for research purposes, moves to impose tighter restrictions on the import of primates within the European Union and a growing public concern about the use of primates in research. Animal researchers and companies may be looking to travel to Mauritius to carry out research that would not be allowed to take place in their own country.

A glance at the new regulations governing the experiments shows that substantial sections have simply been taken from EU and UK legislation, but this has not been consistently done, so there are significant gaps and contradictions. For example, there is no provision for governmental inspections of laboratories. Nor are there any rules in the regulations about the housing, environment and enrichment to be provided to animals. Furthermore, transparency and accountability appear to be absent because, although there is a requirement for researchers to submit records to the government, there is no provision for the government to subsequently put such information into the public domain. 

The long-tailed macaque is the most widely traded primate species for research worldwide and the most widely-traded mammal on the CITES database. In the laboratory, these primates may suffer substantially, including the effects of poisoning (such as vomiting, internal bleeding, weight loss, organ failure and even death) after being forced to consume large quantities of chemicals or drugs in toxicity tests or face being subjected to major brain surgery, their skulls cut open and devices implanted into their brains.

Examples of recent research carried out on long-tailed macaques in the USA makes disturbing reading: 1) experiments that have attempted to mimic traumatic military injuries; 2) forced addiction to recreational drugs such as alcohol and cocaine; 3) injections with phencyclidine (PCP or ‘angel dust’) and 4) forced inhaling of cigarette smoke several hours a day (for some monkeys it was the equivalent of a person smoking four packs of cigarettes a day).

The development of alternative methods to using animals is a growing and pioneering field. There is now a wide range of more human-relevant and humane approaches and animal tests are being replaced in areas such as toxicity testing, neuroscience and drug development. These alternatives include cell, tissue and organ cultures; methods using chemistry, computers or imaging machines; and ethical and highly effective studies using human volunteers.

Cruelty Free International is dedicated to ending this cruel exploitation of the Mauritius monkeys. We believe that the focus for Mauritius should instead be on these new technologies for non-animal experiments and we are urging Mauritius to become a forward-thinking country that adopts humane and cutting-edge alternatives. Mauritius’ image abroad is already tarnished because of its role in the cruel international trade in monkeys for research. Allowing animal experiments to take place will have a further negative impact and likely result in further widespread protest.

Our campaign has received widespread support from around the world, including in Mauritius, by scientists, wildlife experts, politicians and socio-cultural groups as well as members of the public. Indian politician Maneka Gandhi and internationally renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall have also voiced their concerns.

There are three actions you can take to support our campaign to protect the monkeys of Mauritius and let government officials know that what they are doing is unacceptable:

1. Send an email/letter to the Mauritius Embassy in Washington:

[email protected]

[email protected]

H. E. Mr S. Phokeer

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary

Mauritius Embassy

1709 N. Street, NW

Washington D.C. 20036

2. Send an email/letter to the Minister of Tourism in Mauritius:

[email protected]

The Hon Anil Kumarsingh GAYAN, SC

Minister of Tourism

Ministry of Tourism

Level 5, Air Mauritius Centre

John Kennedy Street

Port Louis

Mauritius

3. Sign this petition.

Sarah Kite is director of special projects at Cruelty Free International (previously known as BUAV), a global animal protection organization based in London.

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