Laos’ Unethical Monkeys
Image Credit: Shawn Allen

Laos’ Unethical Monkeys

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When it comes to neighborly relations, Laos has often walked a fine line. Its insistence on, then a “maybe, maybe not” attitude to the construction of the Xayaburi Dam that threatens fish stocks in the lower reaches of the Mekong River, has tested relations with Vietnam and Cambodia.

More broadly, its inability to curb wildlife trafficking has been a bone of contention among international authorities seeking to stop unscrupulous trade in live animals and their body parts.

Now, a British report has warned that thousands of monkeys are being held in overcrowded and appalling conditions, and in breach of international animal welfare guidelines, before being shipped off to research laboratories in the United States and Europe.

According to the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), almost 35,000 long-tailed macaques have been sold out of Laos by primate companies since 2004 amid heavy demand for the species from medical research centers.

“Some monkeys were found dead in their pens, while others were severely emaciated and or suffering from severe hair loss and injuries,” the report said.

The report also comes at a time of growing doubts about the need for experiments on wild animals, particularly monkeys, and calls for a partial or total ban on their use in laboratory experiments. Scientists warn medical research would suffer irreparable damage if such a ban was instituted, while supporters of the ban, led by BUAV, argue the practice is cruel and that alternative means of testing exist.

The argument is vexing – few would argue the merits of animal testing if it genuinely leads to a medical breakthrough in the treatment of cancer. But doubts have been cast over the effectiveness of animal testing.

BUAV estimates that an average of 115 million animals are used or killed in the name of science a year worldwide, but only about a third of the experiments are actually testing new drugs for human diseases. It suggests there’s little scientific evidence to support claims that animal testing has or will lead to cures of every human ailment.It says cells or tissues grown in test tubes, imaging machines, computer models and volunteer studies were all viable alternatives.

An independent review conducted in the U.K. last year by Prof. Sir Patrick Bateson came down in favor of continued animal testing, but said it was concerned that no clear scientific, medical or social benefits had emerged from nearly one in 10 projects that involved tests on monkeys.

It also found that in a minority of experiments, the justification for using monkeys was “not compelling.”

According to the Laos report, macaques were being sold from local farms to companies in China and Vietnam before being shipped abroad, and it was feared many were being taken from the wild.

As a result, BUAV is calling for action by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species and wants governments to address the largely unregulated trade in macaque within Southeast Asia, and to take action over serious animal welfare concerns.

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