Action for Primates

Long-tailed macaques, photo by Sarah Kite
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Trade in Live Non-human Primates

Long-tailed monkey trapped in Indonesia; credit Pramudya Harzani
Long-tailed monkey trapped in Indonesia
photo credit Pramudya Harzani

Free-ranging non-human primates are under increasing pressures from habitat destruction, agricultural expansion, human encroachment, logging and mining and hunting. One review has reported that Unsustainable human activities are now the major force driving non-human primate species to extinction (Estrada et al 2017). The authors estimate that about 60% of non-human primate species are threatened with extinction and populations of 75% of non-human primate species are decreasing globally because of unsustainable human activities. Threats to non-human primates are widespread, and include 87% of species in Madagascar, 73% in Asia, 37% in mainland Africa and 36% in the Neotropics.

All non-human primates are listed under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora); an international agreement between governments to regulate trade and prevent over-exploitation of wild animals and plants. Those non-human primates considered to be threatened with extinction, such as bonobos (Pan paniscus), chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), gorillas (Gorilla gorilla), lemurs and orangutans (Pongo spp), are listed on CITES Appendix I. Trade in Appendix I species is only authorised under exceptional circumstances. All other non-human primate species are listed on CITES Appendix II. These species are not necessarily threatened with extinction in the immediate future, but may become so if trade is not strictly regulated.

Every year, however, hundreds of thousands of non-human primates are forced into a widespread legal and illegal trade, both domestic and international, that causes immense animal suffering and continues to threaten their populations (ISP 2021).

In many countries, there is concern for the widespread and often unregulated domestic trade in non-human primates. The capture and removal of free-living non-human primates from their native habitats and social and family groups is, by its very nature, extremely cruel and inflicts great suffering and distress on the animals, as well as resulting in injuries and even death (ISP 2021). Non-human primates are hunted and killed for food and their body parts used in traditional medicine. Bushmeat (the capture of wild animals for food) is a major threat to great apes and monkeys in countries in West Africa (Tworoski; see our page on this issue). The infants of non-human primates who are killed for food, will likely be taken to be sold as 'pets' or for entertainment purposes (see our page on this issue).

In terms of the international trade, in 2017, Asia exported 54.8% of the total number of live non-human primates, with China accounting for 37%, Vietnam 9.2% and Cambodia 8.6%. Africa exported 24.19%, with Mauritius responsible for 21% and Europe accounted for 15.83% of trade (OEC 2017). Most of these non-human primates were exported for research purposes.

Long-tailed macaques in Laos breeding farm; credit Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animal
Long-tailed macaques, Laos breeding farm
photo credit Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animal

By far, the largest trade in non-human primates has and continues to be that for the global research and testing industry. Historically, this was a trade in wild non-human primates that saw millions of animals, including rhesus (Macaca mulatta) and long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis), baboons (Papio spp), squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sciureus) and various species of vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus spp), captured in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and South America and exported largely to the USA and Europe. There has been a reduction in the numbers of wild-caught non-human primates used in laboratories, following widespread pressure by animal protection organisations and the introduction of government export and import bans and restrictions. The most notable export ban was implemented by India in 1978, which at the time, was exporting tens of thousands of wild-caught rhesus macaques to the USA for research every year. The ban followed a global campaign by the International Primate Protection League (McGreal 2015). A recent import ban on the use of wild-caught non-human primates in research was implemented by the European Union (EU 2010).

This reduction in demand for wild-caught non-human primates was, however, offset by a rapid increase in large-scale breeding farms for macaques in countries such as Cambodia, China, Laos, Mauritius and Vietnam, to supply the global research industry. The long-tailed macaque is the most widely traded non-human primate species, with tens of thousands of animals now kept in small, concrete pens in large industrial scale facilities, with no foliage and little enrichment. It is a trade that often continues to rely on wild populations to establish and replenish breeding groups, which raises serious questions regarding the legitimacy and status of captive-breeding claims (CFI 2015).

Cited references:

  1. Cruelty Free International 2015-08-14 "Investigation uncovers monkey smuggling in Cambodia and Vietnam" Cruelty Free International accessed 2020-04-19
  2. Estrada, Alejandro; Garber, Paul A.; Rylands, Anthony B.; Roos, Christian; Fernandez-Duque, Eduardo; Di Fiore, Anthony; Nekaris, K. Anne-Isola; Nijman, Vincent; Heymann, Eckhard W.; Lambert, Joanna E.; Rovero, Francesco; Barelli, Claudia; Setchell, Joanna M. Gillespie, Thomas R.; Mittermeier, Russell A.; Arregoitia, Luis Verde; de Guinea, Miguel; Gouveia, Sidney; Dobrovolski, Ricardo; Shanee, Sam; Shanee, Noga; Boyle, Sarah A.; Fuentes, Agustin; MacKinnon, Katherine C.; Amato, Katherine R.; Meyer, Andreas L.S.; Wich, Serge; Sussman, Robert W.; Pan, Ruliang; Kone, Inza and Li, Baoguo 2017-01-18 "Impending extinction crisis of the world's primates: Why primates matter" Science Advances 3(1):e1600946
  3. European Union 2010-09-22 "Directive 2010/63/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2010 on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes" European Union accessed 2022-08-06
  4. International Primatological Society 2021-01-01 "Trade in Primates Captured in the Wild" International Primatological Society accessed 2022-05-07
  5. trade in live primates, both legal and illegal, is a major threat to nonhuman primate conservation ... 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
  6. McGreal, Shirley 2015-12 "IPPL and the Five Monkey Export Bans" 42(3):3 accessed 2020-04-19
  7. OEC 2017 "Which countries export Live primates? (2017)" Observatory of Economic Complexity accessed 2020-04-20
  8. Tworoski, Natasha "Bushmeat Crisis" Pan African Sanctuary Alliance accessed 2020-04-18

Uncited references:

  1. Estrada, Alejandro; Garber, Paul A.; Mittermeier, Russell A.; Wich, Serge; Gouveia, Sidney; Dobrovolski, Ricardo; Nekaris, K.A.I.; Nijman, Vincent; Rylands, Anthony B.; Maisels, Fiona; Williamson, Elizabeth A.; Bicca-Marques, Julio; Fuentes, Agustin; Jerusalinsky, Leandro; Johnson, Steig; de Melo, Fabiano Rodrigues; Oliveira, Leonardo; Schwitzer, Christoph; Roos, Christian; Cheyne, Susan M.; Kierulff, Maria Cecilia Martins; Raharivololona, Brigitte; Talebi, Mauricio; Ratsimbazafy, Jonah; Supriatna, Jatna; Boonratana, Ramesh; Wedana, Made and Setiawan, Arif 2018-06-15 "Primates in peril: the significance of Brazil, Madagascar, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo for global primate conservation" PeerJ 6:e4869
  2. Norconk, Marilyn A.; Atsalis, Sylvia; Tully, Gregg; Santillán, Ana Maria; Waters, Siân; Knott, Cheryl D.; Ross Stephen R.; Shanee, Sam and Stiles, Daniel 2020-01-01 "Reducing the primate pet trade: Actions for primatologists" American Journal of Primatology 82(1):e23079