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Why Monkeys Matter BY SUE A. LEARY

As an animal advocate, I have sat across the table from primate vivisectors and wondered, how can they do these things? How can they act so deliberately, taking an innocent being who looks at you with intelligent, expressive eyes, render him defenseless with drugs or physical restraint, and methodically cause suffering, and, eventually, death?


All these factors become magnified when considering primates in particular, because of their lifespan—up to 30 years for the commonly used rhesus monkeys. Largely because primates cost thousands of dollars each, they are typically ‘re-used’ for experiments, traded between labs, and rented out. An article in the online magazine Slate called them “professionals—life-long civil servants.”2 Not surprisingly, the negative impact of life as a research subject has a cumulative effect. Primates who survive multiple experiments and make it to, perhaps, 10 years old, have a trail of horrible experiences behind them. Re-use is also controversial because it raises questions about the validity of scientific results. An animal’s reactions may not be to a current test, but to past exposures, which can alter body chemistry. WHO THEY ARE The use of chimpanzees, who are apes, in research is rare and declining. But a few species of monkeys are commonly used in experiments. New World monkeys (from Central or South America) used include marmosets, tamarins, and squirrel monkeys. Marmosets, from Brazil, with their characteristic white-tufted ears, are on


It’s not just an anguished, idle thought. Understanding what factors drive the animal research enterprise leads to understanding what it will take to redirect it, and prevent the suffering of hundreds of thousands of non-human primates. Recognizing that humans share so many qualities with our primate cousins, including the powerful bond between mothers and babies, and keen intelligence and adaptability, most people, including some researchers, have a higher level of concern about primates’ ability to suffer. Consequently, the use of primates in experimentation is often challenged on ethical grounds. In 2005, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in the United Kingdom published an extensive report, “The Ethics of Research Involving Animals.” Over a period of two years, members of a specially appointed committee reviewed available information and viewpoints on the welfare of animals used in laboratories. Trying to encompass all stages of an animal’s life, they looked at: “breeding (including the use of wild-caught animals); transportation; housing; husbandry and care; handling; restraint; identification; adverse effects of scientific procedures (e.g. nausea from toxic compounds, discomfort and pain from induced syndromes, natural and experimental infections); and euthanasia.”1

AV Magazine  

2011, Issue 3 - Primates in Science

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