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Animal Protection Denmark: Biomedical research lobby seeks to change monkeys' status as an Endangered species

A guest post by AfA Core Member Organization and Macaque Coalition Member Organization Animal Protection Denmark (Dyrenes Beskyttelse)

Søren Krogsgaard – Press Officer. This article was originally written in Danish and released to the Danish press on February 8, 2024

The American pharmaceutical industry is pushing to remove the long-tailed macaque's Endangered status. Lobbyists are targeting Danish research behind the classification. This move, driven by the need for easy access to the coveted research animal, is deemed deplorable by Animal Protection Denmark (APD) and several other animal welfare organizations.

It's only been a year and a half since the long-tailed macaque was classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. But now, parts of the American biomedical research industry attempt to strip away the label, which theoretically obliges countries to better protect the monkeys.

The powerful lobbying organization, the National Association for Biomedical Research (NABR), has submitted a formal petition to the IUCN, asking that the classification be rescinded. This move does not sit well with Animal Protection Denmark.

"NABR's objections appear much more driven by the desire to ensure a steady supply of these animals for research rather than genuine concern for the species' welfare and conservation. Sadly, they are trying to undermine the scientific consensus on the species' Endangered status," says biologist and project manager for international projects at APD, Anne Sofie Meilvang.

In their objection, NABR claims, among other things, that there is no evidence of a significant decline in the monkey population, that the data behind the status is misinterpreted, and that the assessment is based on incorrect methods. NABR also highlights the importance of long-tailed macaques adapting to various habitats, including areas affected by tourism and other human activities.

The researcher responsible for mapping threats to the monkeys has previously explained how they can be Endangered even when seen in large groups at tourist attractions.

"Many think of Endangered animals as rare and difficult to find. It's not that simple. For example, the population of mountain gorillas is increasing, and the threats to them are fewer, yet they are considered Critically Endangered. There are many more long-tailed macaques, but the trend is heading in the completely wrong direction, and the threats to them are severe and varied," explained Malene Friis Hansen, PhD, and postdoc at Princeton University, leader and founder of the Long-tailed Macaque Project, which provided the majority of the data behind the IUCN's assessment.

The pharmaceutical industry depends on macaques

Animal Protection Denmark and a coalition of animal welfare organizations have dismissed NABR's criticism. In a letter to the IUCN, the Asia for Animals Coalition criticizes the pharmaceutical industry lobbyists for being biased and maintains the validity of the scientific assessments and the real threats that macaques face.

In theory, the pharmaceutical industry does not use wild monkeys for research. Instead, captive-bred monkeys must be used in order to ensure control over their health and background. Therefore, APD also wonders about this industry's interest in protecting wild macaque populations.

"The pharmaceutical industry talks a lot about compliance with legislation and ethical standards in the field. Therefore, companies should appreciate the extra scrutiny that can come with classifying a species as Endangered," says APD’s Meilvang.

The laundering of research monkeys has been a significant challenge for the pharmaceutical industry. Accusations of illegal trade in wild long-tailed macaques sold as captive-bred have shed light on fraud in the supply chain. Notable is the arrest of Masphal Kry, a senior official from Cambodia's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, in the USA in 2022 for smuggling wild long-tailed macaques. The case halted the import of macaques from Cambodia, which accounted for 60 per cent of the industry's supply. After Kry's arrest and the disruption of the supply from Cambodia, the price of macaques rose from $20,000 to $55,000 or more per animal in some instances.

"The laundering of captured monkeys is a huge problem and, along with hunting, one of the greatest threats to macaques. It underscores the need for alternatives to animal testing. That's where the industry should focus its resources instead of obstructing the protection of Endangered species," says Meilvang.


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