Animal testing on non-human primates

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Filmed by PETA, Covance primate-testing lab, Vienna, Virginia, 2004-5. [1] Around 65,000 non-human primates are used in experiments each year in the U.S. and EU. [2]

Non-human primates (NHPs) are used in toxicology tests, studies of neurology, behavior and cognition, reproduction, genetics, and xenotransplantation. They are caught in the wild, taken from zoos, circuses and animal trainers, or purpose-bred. [3] Around 65,000 NHPs are used each year in the United States and European Union. [2]

Their use is controversial. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has written that NHPs are used because their brains share structural and functional features with the human brain, but "[w]hile this similarity has scientific advantages, it poses some difficult ethical problems, because of an increased likelihood that primates experience pain and suffering in ways that are similar to humans." [4]

In December 2006, an inquiry chaired by Sir David Weatherall, emeritus professor of medicine at Oxford University, concluded that there is a "strong scientific and moral case" for using primates in some research. [5] The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection called the Weatherall report a "whitewash," arguing that it "fail[ed] to properly address the welfare needs and moral case for subjecting these sensitive, intelligent creatures to a lifetime of suffering in UK labs." [5]

Legal status

Human beings are recognized as persons and protected in law by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights[6] and by all governments to varying degrees. Non-human primates are not classified as persons, which means their individual interests have no formal recognition or protection. The status of non-human primates has generated much debate, particularly through the Great Ape Project, which argues that great apes (gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, bonobos) be given the status of legal persons, and the protection of three basic interests: the right to live, the protection of individual liberty, and the prohibition of torture. [7]

Species and numbers used

Most of the NHPs used are baboons, macaques, marmosets, and chimpanzees. In the United States, nearly 60,000 were used in 2004, [8] and 10,000 in the European Union. Just over 3,000 were used in the UK in 2005. [9] and 3,115 in 2005 [10] Primates are the species most likely to be re-used in experiments. Re-use is allowed if the animals have been used in mild procedures with no lasting side-effects, according to the Research Defence Society, a lobby group. [11] Gill Langley of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection reports that it is because of re-use that there was a fall in 2005 in the number of individual primates used in the UK. [12]

Chimpanzees in the U.S.

There are 1,300 chimpanzees in research laboratories in the United States. Many have been used in hepatitis research and often have been housed alone because of the design of the research protocol. [13] Chimpanzees are held in the Alamogordo Primate Facility (affiliated with the National Institutes of Health and Charles River Laboratories) at Holloman Airforce base, (245 held); the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, affiliated with the University of Texas (133 held); the New Iberia Research Center, affiliated with the University of Louisiana (342 held); the Primate Foundation of Arizona (a holding facility), affiliated with M.D. Anderson/University of Texas (73 held); the Southwest National Primate Research Center, affiliated with the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research (236 held); the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, affiliated with Emory University and Georgia State University (109 held); BIOQUAL, Inc. (15 held); Language Research Center, Georgia State University (4 held); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (18 held); Food & Drug Administration (11 held) National Institutes of Health (11 held). Figures from The Round-Up, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2005 Southwest National Primate Research Center; and "Research Labs with Chimpanzees", Project R&R, New England Anti-Vivisection Society.</ref>


Animal testing

Main articles
Alternatives to animal testing
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Animal testing on frogs
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Unnecessary Fuss

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Covance · Harlan
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Primates are the species most likely to be re-used in experiments in the UK. Re-use is allowed if the animals have been used in mild procedures with no lasting side-effects, according to the Research Defence Society.[14] BUAV report that it is because of re-use that there has been a fall in the number of individual primates used in the UK.[12]

Most of the NHPs used are macaques, accounting for 79% of all primates used in research in the UK, and 63% of all federally funded research grants for projects using primates in the USA[15]. Lesser numbers ofmarmosets, spider monkeys, and squirrel monkeys are used in the UK and the US. Baboons, chimpanzees and small numbers of other species are used in the USA. Licenses approving the use of apes, such as gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans, are not currently being issued in Britain, though their use has not been outlawed,[16] but chimpanzees are used in the US, with an estimated 1,500-1600 still remaining in research laboratories, according to The Humane Society of the United States.[17] NHPs are used in research into HIV, neurology, behavior, cognition, reproduction, Parkinson's disease, stroke, malaria, respiratory viruses, infectious disease, genetics, xenotransplantation, drug abuse, and also in vaccine and drug testing. According to The Humane Society of the United States, chimpanzees are most often used in hepatitis research, and monkeys in SIV research. Animals used in hepatitis and SIV studies are often housed alone.[17]

82% of the primates procedures in the UK in 2006 were in applied studies, which the Home Office defines as research conducted for the purpose of developing or testing commercial products.[18] Toxicology testing is the largest use, which includes legislatively required testing of drugs.[19] The second largest category of research using primates is "protection of man, animals, or environment", accounting for 8.9% of all procedures in 2006. The third largest category is "fundamental biological research,", accounting for 4.9% of all UK primate procedures in 2006. This includes neuroscientific study of the visual system, cognition, and diseases such as Parkinson's,[20] involving techniques such as inserting electrodes to record from or stimulate the brain, and temporary or permanent inactivation of areas of tissue.

In 1996, the British Animal Procedures Committee recommended new measures for dealing with NHPs. The use of wild-caught primates was banned, except where "exceptional and specific justification can be established"; specific justification must be made for the use of old world primates (but not for the use of new world primates); approval for the acquisition of primates from overseas is conditional upon their breeding or supply center being acceptable to the Home Office; and each batch of primates acquired from overseas must be separately authorized.[21]


There are indications that NHP use is on the rise,[17] in part because biomedical research funds in the U.S. have more than doubled since the 1990s.[22] In 2000, the NIH published a report[23] recommending that the Regional Primate Research Center System be renamed the National Primate Research Center System and calling for an increase in the number of NHPs available to researchers, and stated that "nonhuman primates are crucial for certain types of biomedical and behavioral research." This assertion has been challenged.[24][25] In the U.S., the Oregon and California National Primate Research Centers and New Iberia Research Center have expanded their facilities.[26][27][28] In 2000 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) invited applications for the establishment of new breeding specific pathogen free colonies;[29] and a new breeding colony projected to house 3,000 NHPs has been set up in Florida.[30] The NIH's National Center for Research Resources claimed a need to increase the number of breeding colonies in its 2004-2008 strategic plan, as well as to set up a database, using information provided through a network of National Primate Research Centers, to allow researchers to locate NHPs with particular characteristics. This database is not accessible to the public.[31]

China is also increasing its NHP use, and is regarded as attractive to Western companies because of the low cost of research, the relatively lax regulations and the increase in animal-rights activism in the West.[17]

In 2004, the British government reported "a definite long-term downward trend" in the use of new world primates (for example, marmosets, tamarins, squirrel, owl, spider and capuchin monkeys), but stated that the use of old world primates (for example, baboons and macaques) fluctuates and is more difficult to determine.[32] Crab-eating macaques and rhesus macaques are the most commonly used species.[12] Home Office figures show the number of primates used in the UK rose by 11 per cent in 2005 to 4,650 procedures, 440 more than in 2004.[33]


Austria, New Zealand, Netherlands, and Sweden have introduced bans on experiments involving the great apes, a biological family that includes gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, and humans. Their use is not outlawed in the UK, but no licenses have been issued since 1998. [34] The Boyd Group, a British group comprising animal researchers, philosophers, primatologists, and animal advocates, has recommended a global prohibition on the use of great apes. [35]

Sweden's legislation also bans invasive experiments on gibbons. In December 2005, Austria outlawed experiments on any apes, unless it is conducted in the interests in the individual animal. In 2002, Belgium announced that it was working toward a ban on all primate use, and in the UK, 103 MPs signed an Early Day Motion calling for an end to primate experiments on the grounds that they cause suffering and are unreliable, according to the MPs. [36]


The "pit of despair" with its pyramid top removed in the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Many of the best-known allegations of abuse made by animal protection or animal rights groups against animal-testing facilities involve NHPs.

University of Wisconsin-Madison

The so-called "pit of despair" was used in experiments conducted on rhesus macaque monkeys during the 1970s by American comparative psychologist Harry Harlow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. [37] The aim of the research was to produce clinical depression. The vertical chamber was a stainless-steel bin with slippery sides that sloped to a rounded bottom. A 3/8 in. wire mesh floor 1 in. above the bottom of the chamber allowed waste material to drop out of holes. The chamber had a food box and a water-bottle holder, and was covered with a pyramid top so that the monkeys were unable to escape. [38]

Harlow placed baby monkeys in the chamber alone for up to six weeks. Within a few days, they stopped moving about and remained huddled in a corner. The monkeys generally exhibited marked social impairment and peer hostility when removed from the chamber; most did not recover.

University of California, Riverside

Britches was a macaque monkey born in 1985 into a breeding colony at the University of California, Riverside, removed from his mother at birth, and left alone and tethered, with his eyelids sewn shut, as part of a sight-deprivation experiment. [39] He was removed from the laboratory when he was five weeks old during a raid by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). The university criticized the ALF, claiming that damage to the monkey's eyelids, [4] allegedly caused by the sutures, had in fact been caused by an ALF veterinarian who examined the monkey after the raid and wrote a report. The university also said that the monitoring device attached to the monkey's head had been tampered with by the ALF before the photograph was taken. The experiment was condemned by the American Council for the Blind. [40]

Columbia University

In 2003, CNN reported that a post-doctoral veterinarian at Columbia University complained to the university's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee about experiments being conducted on baboons by E. Sander Connolly, an assistant professor of neurosurgery. [41] Connolly was mimicking strokes by removing the baboons' left eyeballs and using the empty sockets to reach and clamp a particular blood vessel in their brains. The baboons were kept alive after the surgery for three to ten days in a state of "profound disability" which would have been "terrifying," according to neurologist Robert Hoffman. [42] People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals published the description of one experiment:

On September 19, 2001, baboon B777's left eye was removed, and a stroke was induced. The next morning, it was noted that the animal could not sit up, that he was leaning over, and that he could not eat. That evening, the baboon was still slouched over and was offered food but couldn't chew. On September 21, 2001, the record shows that the baboon was 'awake, but no movement, can't eat (chew), vomited in the a.m.' With no further notation about consulting with a veterinarian, the record reads, 'At 1:30 p.m. the animal died in the cage.'" [43]

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found "no indication that the experiments...violated federal guidelines." The Dean of Research at Columbia's School of Medicine said that Connolly had stopped the experiments because of threats from animal rights activists, but still believed his work was humane and potentially valuable. [41]


Münster, Germany

In Germany in 2004, journalist Friedrich Mülln took undercover footage of staff in Covance in Münster, Europe's largest primate-testing center. Staff were filmed handling monkeys roughly, screaming at them, and making them dance to blaring music. The monkeys were shown isolated in small wire cages with little or natural light, no environmental enrichment, and subjected to high noise levels from staff shouting and playing the radio. [44] Primatologist Jane Goodall described their living conditions as "horrendous."

Vienna, Virginia
A monkey inside a restraint tube filmed undercover by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals inside Covance, Vienna, Virginia.

A Covance employee, who worked as a study director at the company's facility in Vienna, Virginia from 2002 to 2004, told city officials in Chandler, Arizona, that Covance was dissecting monkeys while the animals were still alive and able to feel pain.

The allegations were uncovered as part of an open-records request made by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in November 2006. The employee had approached the city with her concerns when she learned that Covance planned to build a new laboratory in Chandler.

She alleged that three monkeys in the Vienna laboratory had pushed themselves up on their elbows and had gasped for breath after their eyes had been removed, and while their intestines were being removed during necropsies (autopsy). When she expressed concern at the next study directors' meeting, she says she was told that it was just a reflex. She told city officials that she believed such movements were not reflexes but suggested "botched euthanasia performed by inadequately trained personnel." She says that she was ridiculed and subjected to thinly veiled threats when she contacted her supervisors about the issue. [45]

University of Cambridge

BUAV alleges that monkeys were left unattended for up to 15 hours after having parts of their brains removed to induce strokes. [46]

In the UK, after an undercover investigation in 1998, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) reported that researchers in Cambridge University's primate-testing labs were sawing the tops off marmosets' heads, inducing strokes, then leaving them overnight without veterinarian care, because staff worked only nine to five. [5] The experiments involved the use of hundreds of macaque monkeys, who were first trained to perform certain behavioral and cognitive tasks, then re-tested after brain damage to determine how the damage had affected their skills. The monkeys were deprived of food and water to encourage them to perform the tasks, with water being withheld for 22 out of every 24 hours. [6] [7] (video)

The Research Defence Society, a lobby group, defended Cambridge's research. The RDS wrote that the monkeys were fully anaesthetised, and appropriate pain killers were given after the surgery. "On recovery from the anaesthesia, the monkeys were kept in an incubator, offered food and water and monitored at regular intervals until the early evening. They were then allowed to sleep in the incubators until the next morning. No monkeys died unattended during the night after stroke surgery." [8] A court rejected BUAV's application for a judicial review. BUAV has appealed and a decision is expected in 2006. [9] [10]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Covance Cruelty", People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Animals used in research", U.S. Department of Agriculture, p. 10; "Primates, Basic facts", British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection.
  3. "End Chimpanzee Research: Overview", Project R&R, New England Anti-Vivisection Society.
  4. "The Ethics of Research Involving Animals", The Nuffield Council, 2005.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Morelle, Rebecca. "UK experts back primate research", BBC News, December 12, 2006.
  6. UN Declaration of Human Rights
  7. "Declaration on Great Apes", Great Ape Project.
  8. 54,998 NHPs were used in 2004 in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), an annual figure that has been steady since 1973 [1]PDF (136 KiB), p. 10.
  9. 4,208 NHPs were used in Britain in 2004 (Jha, Alok. "RSPCA outrage as experiments on animals rise to 2.85m", The Guardian, December 9, 2005)
  10. "Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals, Great Britain, 2005PDF (1.33 MiB), British Home Office, p. 20-21.
  11. "Scientific study of primate research - call for evidence, Research Defence Society, March 24, 2005.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Langley, Gill. "Next of Kin: A Report on the Use of Primates in Experiments," British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, June 2006, p.31.
  13. "An Introduction to Primate Issues", The Humane Society of the United States, retrieved July 13, 2006.
  14. "Scientific study of primate research - call for evidence, Research Defence Society, March 24, 2005.
  15. Demographic Analysis of Primate Research in the United States
  16. "Testing on apes 'might be needed'", BBC News, June 3, 2006.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 Demographic Analysis of Primate Research in the United States, The Humane Society of the United States, retrieved July 13, 2006.
  18. [2] Home Office Statistics 2006
  19. Langley, Gill. "Next of Kin: A Report on the Use of Primates in Experiments", British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, June 2006, p.33-34.
  20. Langley, Gill. "Next of Kin: A Report on the Use of Primates in Experiments", British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, June 2006, p.37.
  21. "Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals"PDF (1.19 MiB), Great Britain, 2004, p. 87
  22. "Senate completes NIH doubling in 2003"
  23. Full Scale Evaluation of the Regional Primate Research Centers Program—Final Report (Office of Science Policy and Public Liaison, National Center for Research Resources/NIH. 2000)
  24. "Is Primate-Modeled Research Crucial? Pathways to Progress Autumn, 2003. Americans For Medical Advancement
  25. "Background and References for Pathways to Progress, Autumn 2003."
  26. "ONPRC Outdoor shelters"
  27. "CNPRC expanding"
  28. New 12,000 sq ft facility at New Iberia
  29. "NIH RFA for new breeding colonies"
  30. "Panther Tracts at Primate Products"
  31. "2004-2008 Strategic Plan: Challenges and Critical Choices", National Center for Research Resources, National Institutes of Health.
  32. "Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals"PDF (1.19 MiB), Great Britain, 2004, p. 16
  33. Randerson, James. "Number of animal tests rises to 2.9m, highest total for 13 years, The Guardian, July 25, 2006.
  34. "Testing on apes 'might be needed'", BBC News, June 3, 2006.
  35. "The Boyd Group Papers on the use of Non-Human Primates in research and testing", The Boyd Group, British Psychological Society, 2002.
  36. Langley, Gill. "The Use of Primates in Experiments"], British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, June 2006, p. 12.
  37. Blum, Deborah. The Monkey Wars. Oxford University Press, 1994, p. 95.
  38. Suomi, Stephen John. Experimental Production of Depressive Behavior in Young Rhesus Monkeys: A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Psychology) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1971, p. 33.
  39. "The Story of Britches" (video), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
  40. Newkirk, Ingrid. Free the Animals: The Story of the Animal Liberation Front, Lantern Books, 2000, ISBN 1-930051-22-0.
  41. 41.0 41.1 "Columbia in animal cruelty dispute", CNN, October 12, 2003.
  42. Hoffman, Robert. "Letter from Robert Hoffman"PDF (10.5 KiB), , January 20, 2003.
  43. "E. Sander Connolly", People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
  44. Undercover footage of staff in Covance screaming at and mocking monkeys, video.
  45. "Former Study Director Reports Hideous, Systematic Cruelty at Covance; PETA Calls For Federal Investigation of Alleged Atrocities", People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, November 28, 2006.
  46. Laville, Sandra. "Lab monkeys 'scream with fear' in tests" The Guardian, February 8, 2005.

Further reading