Saving monkeys?

17 July 2014

Posted by: Bella Williams

Category: Staff blog

saving-monkeys.jpgBella Williams, Head of Engagement, looks at the breeding of primates in Mauritius and some of the misguided campaigns targeting it.

Over the past four years the BUAV have waged a tireless campaign against primate breeders in Mauritius, spending months at a time on the holiday island, filming facilities at a distance, holding press conferences and enjoying the sunshine, picturesque beaches and balmy waters. Mauritius has five breeding facilities for cynomolgus macaques, which they export to the research industry in Europe and the United States.

We have often wondered why their campaign has focussed exclusively on Mauritius given that:

  • The Mauritian breeders actively seek accreditation by the international welfare community.
  • Mauritian monkeys are reputed to be healthy, well-socialised and easy to handle. Poorly treated animals tend to be aggressive and difficult to handle, which is not the reputation of Mauritian macaques.
  • The largest exporter of cynomolgus macaques to the research industry is not Mauritius but China.
  • Animal welfare standards elsewhere in the world fall short of those in the EU, and it may be more reasonable to question the care of the monkeys from other locations.
Cynomolgus Macaques are an invasive pest species in Mauritius that are considered a threat to conservation, an agricultural pest and a danger to the human population. They are routinely culled on the island under pest-control measures. Far from “being ripped from their jungle homes to act as breeding machines” breeding monkeys have been saved from the cull and allowed to live out their days in a carefully managed troop, with their family group, toys and puzzles, challenges and socialisation training that gets them used to humans and adds interest to their lives. All this takes place under the care of vets and behavioural primatologists who work hard to ensure their well-being. This may not be the case in all primate breeding facilities around the world, but the Mauritian facilities are known to have high standards, and many of the monkeys enjoy better living conditions than a typical zoo animal in the UK. Breeding macaques in captivity is challenging and requires specialist knowledge, so the environment is carefully designed to be as free from hardship as its owners can make it.
Bioculture, the first of the Mauritian primate breeders and still the largest, is co-owned by a renowned zoologist and environmentalist, greatly respected for his conservation work in and around Mauritius. There and on the neighbouring island of Rodrigues he has bred large populations of the previously endangered Aldabra tortoise, while in Madagascar the conservation work has provided a rain-forest reserve for lemurs. Bioculture’s investment and work in conservation makes a huge, practical difference to the well-being of endangered species in Mauritius and elsewhere, while BUAV seek to damage research that is happening far away in the UK and Europe by limiting the supply of monkeys. In addition, a levy placed on exported primates by the Mauritian government provides significant funding to the Mauritian national parks.
The breeding industry is a major employer in Mauritius, and the island is hoping to develop its scientific credentials further through a pre-clinical research bill, which is of course, opposed by BUAV. The apparently ethical stance of BUAV’s campaign against the Mauritian breeders in fact attacks a small, developing economy with a reputation for conservation and animal welfare.

If BUAV were successful in destroying the primate trade in Mauritius, what would the impact be?

  • Loss of livelihood for hundreds of low-income families
  • Loss of revenue and essential funding to conservation projects that protect critically endangered species in the Indian Ocean
  • The deaths of thousands of captive monkeys who have lived in a well-resourced and protected environment for many years
  • The loss of breeding facilities with some of the highest animal welfare standards worldwide, forcing the research industry to use animals bred elsewhere under poorer conditions
If BUAV are truly concerned about the care of monkeys supplied to the UK from overseas, they could usefully investigate and draw attention to genuine instances of poor welfare and bad practice, rather than attacking a small liberal democracy, with a free press, which regularly exceeds international standards for animal welfare and conservation.

Bella Williams