Why is it that so many primates are still subjected to animal testing? Vegan Life looks at the efforts being made to stop the practice.
Forced to live their short lives like prisoners: deprived, miserable, and in pain, thousands of monkeys–mainly macaques and marmosets – are used in research and testing every year. These sentient creatures have no interaction with one another. They are routinely tested on then dumped back into their steel cage without any painkillers. Often they will even be starved of food and water.
According to animal rights charity Peta: “Research shows that 90 percent of primates in laboratories exhibit abnormal behaviours that are caused by the physical abuse, psychological stress, social isolation, and barren confinement that they are forced to endure. Many go insane, rocking back and forth, pacing endlessly in the cages, and engaging in repetitive motions such as back-flipping. They even engage in acts of self-mutilation, including tearing out their own hair or biting their own flesh.”
Primates are highly intelligent animals who form complex social relationships, and experience emotions in a similar way to humans-and they can suffer in a similar ways to us. In a research paper entitled The Case for Phasing Out Experiments on Primates, writers Kathleen M. Conlee and Andrew N. Rowan said: “Primates are well known for their cognitive and emotional abilities. Studies demonstrate that they have mathematical, memory, and problem-solving skills and that they experience emotions similar to those of humans—for example, depression, anxiety, and joy.”
This high level of cognitive function is just one of the reasons primate research remains so controversial for so many. It has been the subject of vigorous campaigning by antivivisection groups for at least 20 years-and looking at the enormous stats, it’s no surprise. Peta claims every year more than 105,000 primates are used in experiments, or held in labs, in the US alone. These experiments often involve drug administration, infecting with diseases, poisoning for toxicity testing, brain damaging, maiming, blinding, and other invasive procedures. Even when alternatives to the use of animals are available they are often not used.
Animal Justice Project [AJP] is an international non-profit organisation working in the UK and the States. It campaigns against the use of animals in laboratories, as well as advocating veganism and animal rights. The group uses education, outreach and research, to publicise the reality of vivisection and expose the injustices that take place in society to animals as a whole. It has recently campaigned against the use of primates in experiments.
The organisation has recently launched its #StopMonkeyImports campaign which plans to halt the import and use of 120 macaque monkeys for malaria experiments at Karolinska Institutet – a leading university in Stockholm-also the last university in Scandinavia still using primates for research.
AJP founder Claire Palmer says: “We launched the campaign with a petition directed at the university asking them to call off the import and study. A petition that today has almost half a million signatures. On November 13 last year, we received the sad news that 24 captive-bred rhesus macaques had arrived at the Astrid Fagræus Laboratory for Karolinska Institutet researchers to begin experimentation. All monkeys were under four years old. By December 8, following renewed efforts by our two organisations, the university made an official statement, claiming that now only the 24 monkeys would be used, and for lesser procedures. This is, of course, a minor victory, but not good enough.”
Since then the campaign has gone from strength to strength, peaking in March when the project gained support from 33 celebrities including Joanna Lumley, Peter Egan and world-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall. “During World Week for Animal in Laboratories, we handed in an open letter to the Swedish Embassy and Djurrättsalliansen organised a demonstration which was attended by hundreds of compassionate people right outside the laboratory in Stockholm. The aims of the campaign are simple – to stop these cruel monkey experiments, and release the 24 macaques to a sanctuary. Since birth these animals were never allowed freedom, but they will at least no longer be at the mercy of researchers,” explains Claire.
People are often a lot more responsive to the use of primates in testing than any other animal. According to Claire, the reason for this is fairly simple-we feel more empathy with animals who we can relate to, understand, and are like us. She believes this speciesism, which is so very widespread in our society, can be used to our advantage however. We can evoke empathy for individual of certain species, to open hearts to others.
Since 2011, invasive experiments on chimpanzees have essentially been abandoned by the scientific research community. Claire says: “The significant decision was based on the conclusions of a report adopted by the US National Institutes of Health that stated most current use of chimpanzees for biomedical research is unnecessary. If the chimpanzee is such a poor model for the study of human disease, what does that say about other animals (including monkeys) with whom we share even less DNA?” Certainly in the field of vaccine development alone, the use of non-human primates has been a spectacular failure.
Whilst humans and monkeys share many genes, it is the way in which those genes are regulated that accounts for much of the difference between human and monkey anatomy and physiology. “Although monkeys and human both have a gene for a tail, the gene is switched on in the monkey but is switched off in humans”, says Claire. On the basis of current science, the obvious and most reliable source for the study of human disease would be by studying human populations and the human immune system. Claire adds: “The likely harm to monkeys far outweighs the hypothetical benefits.”
There is an assumption that if scientists ascertain that if they discover how a monkey reacts to a certain vaccine or condition this is of course how a human will react. “Again, this is demonstrably false. Out of 100 AIDS vaccines that protected laboratory animals against HIV/AIDS not one was effective in protecting humans against the disease,” Claire says. This clearly highlights that scientists assumptions on correlation between monkeys and humans is highly inaccurate.
Primates and animals have a voice, but for those caged in laboratories their voices go unheard. With only DVDS and cheap plastic toys for visual stimulation, these magnificent creatures are living a life of misery. Claire adds: “Sentient animals have an intrinsic right to life free from suffering, and those incarcerated in laboratories certainly receive no benefits from this travesty.”
Animal Justice Project is always looking for volunteers, so if you want to get involved in the campaign go to www.animaljusticeproject.com/volunteer