By Sarah Kite
For The Bali Times
Indonesia’s ban on the export of wild-caught monkeys for research is a sham.
LONDON ~ A recent investigation carried out by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) has highlighted the role of Indonesia in supplying non-human primates to the international research industry. It is a trade that undoubtedly inflicts great suffering on Indonesia’s macaques.
Moreover, it is not limited to the trade in research. A variety of primate species are also exploited and mistreated, for the pet, entertainment and food industries.
The findings of our investigation raise major concerns regarding animal welfare and compliance with Indonesian legislation as well as the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) regulations. The situation becomes even more urgent because the Ministry of Forestry has increased trapping quotas for wild-caught long-tailed macaques three-fold from 5,100 in 2008 to an alarming 15,100 for 2009. This figure is contrary to the known decline in macaque populations worldwide.
Primate population studies represent a key tool to enable member states of CITES to safeguard the conservation status of threatened species and, in particular, to comply with their duties under CITES to ensure that the export of a species will not be detrimental to the survival of that species.
Our investigation, however, has revealed major concerns regarding the scientific validity and objectivity of primate population surveys carried out in Indonesia. Of particular concern was the claim that primate companies have funded population surveys and even accompanied scientific officials along with representatives from the Ministry of Forestry to carry out these surveys. Yet these are the very surveys used by the Indonesian authorities as the basis for deciding what numbers of macaques can be taken from the wild.
Our investigation has also revealed the cruelty inflicted on macaques during their capture, transportation and confinement and the poor conditions in which they are kept at primate supply companies. Such treatment and conditions breached international animal welfare guidelines set by the International Primatological Society.
Indonesia banned the export of wild-caught monkeys for research in 1994. According to our findings, however, this “ban” is a sham. Through lack of enforcement by the Indonesian authorities and the use of misleading source codes for CITES export permits, we believe that wild-caught monkeys continue to be exported for the international research industry.
In some cases, wild-caught monkeys have simply been removed from one location in Indonesia and placed on islands under conditions no different from their original homes. Subsequently, wild primates who are living and breeding freely in a natural environment are being inappropriately and misleadingly designated as captive-born animals by the Indonesian authorities in what appears to be an attempt to avoid the restrictions that would otherwise be placed on the trade by CITES and by its own legislation.
Part of the reason long-tailed macaques are being traded in such large numbers is because they are considered “pests.” There are other ways of managing the situation without resorting to export or killing. We urge President Yudhoyono to address the underlying problem of human-monkey conflict with compassion. Although some people believe that exporting or killing, often the same thing, is a solution, this is not only cruel; it fails to address the issue long-term. There are ways to control monkey populations that are not only humane but are also more effective. These include the relocation of monkeys and the control of their reproduction as well as educating the public. A key element in wildlife-human conflicts is inappropriate behaviour by people. Encouraging animals by providing a food source, for example, reduces their innate fear of humans and encourages conflicts.
Scientists often claim that it is important to use monkeys in research because they are so much like humans. It is, however, this very fact that makes their use completely unethical. Importantly, the scientific appropriateness of this use is also being challenged by knowledgeable people, including scientists, worldwide.
The Indonesian government must know that the monkeys it exports end up in laboratories where pain and suffering are the routine. For example, many of the monkeys are used in toxicity testing, which involves the forced ingestion, inhalation or injection of potentially lethal and poisonous chemicals. We know that in the US, some are also being used in disturbing experiments that have involved the forced consumption of alcohol and the surgical mutilation of female monkeys. Most of the animals are killed at the end of the experiments; the rest may end up being used again and again or are sold to other laboratories. This is a far cry from living freely with their families in the jungles of Indonesia. In the past, the government of India banned the export of its indigenous rhesus macaques after learning of the gruesome experiments to which they were being subjected in the US. The situation is not materially different for Indonesia’s long-tailed macaques.
We urge President Yudhoyono to take a stand and to follow the lead of other countries in Asia to ban the trapping, breeding and export of any macaques for the research industry. To what extent there is the political will in Indonesia to address the issues raised from our investigation remains to be seen. We have at least placed these important concerns into the international arena.
We hope that the government of Indonesia and CITES will respond accordingly and carry out their own investigation into our findings. Most importantly, we hope the people of Indonesia will take a moment to reflect on the cruelty and brutality that is being inflicted on Indonesia’s indigenous primate populations and that they will themselves demand action be taken by their government.
The writer is director of special projects at the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection.