Trade for research
Several macaque species have been and continue to be exported for research and testing. Historically, this was a large-scale international trade in individuals who were captured in the wild and exported from Asia. The impact of such commercial trapping had a major negative impact on wild populations. For example, prior to 1978, over 100,000 juvenile rhesus macaques were being trapped every year in India for export, primarily to the USA. Between 1960 and 1980, the rhesus macaque was the most heavily traded and widely used macaque species for research and its population in northern India declined dramatically; in some areas the species was almost completely extirpated. This decline was partially attributed to trapping for export. Following India’s ban on rhesus macaque exportation in 1978, the long-tailed macaque became the most widely used macaque species by the global research industry and was subjected to widespread commercial trapping and export in countries across its range in South East Asia, including Indonesia and the Philippines.
In recent years, the wild-caught trade was, on record at least, replaced by the commercial breeding of long-tailed macaques, especially in China, Cambodia, Vietnam and Lao PDR. Between 2011 and 2015, 206,144 live long-tailed macaques were traded internationally.
There exists a much smaller international trade in other macaque species, such as rhesus, southern pig-tailed and Japanese macaques, for scientific, commercial, or biomedical research purposes. CITES records for 2017-2018 indicate that these species are captive-bred or captive-born, although some Japanese macaques were listed as wild-caught. In some countries, macaques may be captured from the wild to be used as breeding animals or for use in experiments in domestic laboratories.
The rapid development and expansion of macaque farms in South East Asia, with long-tailed macaques taken from the wild to establish and maintain the breeding colonies, led to concerns over the legitimacy of captive-breeding claims and the existence of an illegal trade.
In 2011, the long-tailed macaque was included in the Review of Significant Trade at the 25th meeting of the CITES Animals Committee (AC25) because of concerns regarding the high levels of trade from source countries, especially Cambodia, Vietnam and Lao PDR.
In 2016, the CITES Standing Committee recommended the suspension of trade in long-tailed macaques from Lao PDR (Notification No. 2016/018 of 15 March 2016). This suspension remains in place.
Further, in 2020, the previously “Least Concern” long-tailed macaque was reclassified as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN, in part due to concerns about large-scale capture for export.
Wild capture for the research industry
The global trade in macaques for research is historically one of monkeys captured from the wild and shipped overseas to primate dealers in Europe and the USA, who would in turn sell the animals on to laboratories for research and testing. The trade in wild-caught macaques is cruel, indiscriminate and inflicts substantial suffering, injuries and mortalities. It has also led to the plundering of wild populations.
Several official bodies and organisations, including the European Union, recognise the suffering involved in the capturing of wild non-human primates, which has led to an international move away from a trade in wild-caught animals, with several countries banning the use of such animals in research.
For example, the International Primatological Society has stated that “the capture of nonhuman primates from the wild is stressful for the animals and increases the suffering, risk of injuries, spread of disease and even death during capture, storage and transport”.
The European Union introduced provisions in European Union Directive (2010/63/EU) that end the use of wild-caught non-human primates in research and move towards using only individuals who have been bred in self-sustaining colonies, from parents who themselves have been bred in captivity.
Some countries, including the Philippines and Indonesia, banned the export of wild-caught non-human primates for research in 1994. While a small export trade in wild-caught Japanese macaques for research was recently recorded, in some countries in Asia, macaques may continue to be captured from the wild to be used as breeding animals with their offspring exported for research or for use in experiments in domestic laboratories.
Breeding macaques for research
There has been a move away from the use of wild-caught non-human primates in research, in part because of the recognition of the suffering inflicted when removing animals from the wild, as well as the negative impact the trade has on wild populations. In its place, the commercial breeding of long-tailed macaques for export has grown rapidly on an industrial scale in East and South East Asia, including China, Cambodia, Vietnam and Lao PDR. Wild long-tailed macaques were taken from the wild to establish and maintain these breeding colonies. There are concerns about an ongoing dependency on wild-caught animals, the validity of captive-breeding claims, the misrepresentation of source codes on export permits and the existence of an illegal trade.
Macaques are confined in their thousands in an unnatural environment inside large-scale breeding facilities. The enclosures generally comprise barren concrete and wire mesh pens that lack the space (horizontal and vertical), complexity and enrichment which is so important for the macaques’ physical and psychological welfare.
There are also concerns regarding a lack of welfare legislation or enforcement of international welfare guidelines covering the housing and care of macaques in some breeding facilities. Holding and transportation are additional sources of stress and suffering, as the macaques are shipped on long journeys around the world in the cargo holds of aeroplanes.
For further reading, please refer to our Macaque Bibliography.