Fate of 1,000 research monkeys unclear after government intervention
Federal wildlife officials have found themselves in a sticky spot after reporting recent shipments of research monkeys as being improperly imported into the United States.
The more than 1,000 long-tailed macaques were imported by Charles River Laboratories, a Massachusetts-based research company.. Since being reported by wildlife officials, the monkeys have been in company custody, a Charles River spokesperson said.
Over the past six months, US Fish and Wildlife Service officials have contacted at least two animal sanctuaries to inquire about the cost of housing and feeding the primates for the rest of their lives.
A sanctuary cited a price tag of $125 million – to cover staff costs, land purchase and building infrastructure – before communication with government officials was blocked last week.
The federal government then decided to return the monkeys to Cambodia, according to PETA, but animal rights groups are fighting back.
“We know the monkeys won’t be safe on the other end,” said Liz Tyson, director of programs at Born Free USA, the organization that provided the $125 million quote to wildlife officials.
PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo said the group urges Fish and Wildlife to “do the right thing and send these gentle beings to dignified and willing sanctuaries.”
It is unclear what prompted Fish and Wildlife to prevent Charles River from using the monkeys. An agency spokesperson said the monkey shipments were refused customs clearance following an ongoing investigation, but did not provide further details.
The importation of monkeys used in medical research is strictly regulated, requiring documentation that the primates come from breeding establishments.
The Justice Department has been investigating for years whether US companies, including Charles River, were involved in smuggling apes poached from the wild and brought into the United States with falsified documents.
A Charles River spokesperson acknowledged that “a number of expeditions” from the company’s Cambodian supplier have recently been denied permission by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“We have operated with the belief that all shipments of [monkeys] … meets the material requirements, documentation and related processes and procedures of CITES,” a 1975 treaty designed to ensure that the global market for certain plants and animals does not threaten their survival in the wild.
The company said it had voluntarily suspended future shipments of Cambodian monkeys “until we and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can develop and implement new procedures to build confidence that the [monkeys] that we import from Cambodia are specially selected.
The company added that it “continues to look after” the monkeys native to Cambodia, but did not specify the location.
Charles River announced in February that he had been subpoenaed in connection with the Justice Department investigation.
“We are fully cooperating with the U.S. government in their investigation and believe that any concerns raised regarding Charles River are without merit,” the company said in a statement at the time.
Angela Grimes, chief executive of Born Free USA, said the organization was first contacted by Fish and Wildlife in September. Agents were looking for a home for 360 monkeys.
Fish and Wildlife officials called back in February and said the number of monkeys had risen to 1,200, Grimes said.
“There is no place with room for 1,200 monkeys,” Grimes added. “The government had a hard time with that. We also struggled with that.
Grimes said she hopes to work with the federal government to come up with a plan to secure the funding needed to set up housing for the monkeys. But then she felt like the rug had been ripped out of her when PETA announced it had information suggesting the government was planning to return the monkeys to Cambodia.
“We haven’t had the full opportunity to engage in a serious conversation to come up with solutions that might possibly work,” Grimes said.
Krystal Mathis, executive director of Primarily Primates, a sanctuary outside San Antonio, said she received a call from Fish and Wildlife in February.
“It looked like they [the agents] were trying to figure out what all their options were,” Mathis said. “We said we could definitely take some of the females to start with, and maybe more as we learn more information.”
Both Primarily Primates and Born Free USA said a new structure to house a dozen rescued monkeys could cost upwards of $100,000. Animals also need daily feeding and frequent veterinary care requiring personnel and resources.
On Monday, PETA supporters inundated the Fish and Wildlife Service with thousands of emails and phone calls urging the agency not to return the apes to Cambodia, the group said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson declined to provide information on its plans for the monkeys.
“The disposition of shipments that are refused customs clearance varies depending on the circumstances, and we are unable to comment further on these shipments at this time,” the spokesperson said.
In November, two Cambodian wildlife officials were among eight people charged with running an international monkey smuggling ring that allegedly shipped primates to the United States that had been poached from the wild and falsely labeled as coming from settlements. breeding.
The smuggling of wild-caught monkeys is believed to have been going on for decades due to the colossal demand for laboratory monkeys in the United States and the limited supply in breeding facilities domestically and abroad.
NBC News reported in December that the Covid pandemic and the race to find a vaccine has squeezed the market even further, sparking a mad dash for animals that has fueled a spike in monkey poaching and contributed to species endangerment. most commonly used in drug studies. — the long-tailed macaque.
“It got out of control,” said Malene Friis Hansen, director of the Long-tailed Macaque Project, a Denmark-based nonprofit group focused on primate conservation, at the time.