International Primate Protection League

U.S. Primate Imports Spike
April 2007

Earlier this year, IPPL asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for statistics regarding primate imports for 2006. Upon receiving their response, we were shocked to see how much primate imports have spiked in recent years.

A total of 26,638 primates reached the United States in 2006, a whopping 44 percent increase over 2004 figures (when 18,534 primates were imported). They arrived from the distant shores of Asia, Africa, and South America. Some made the journey alone, while others were jammed together in massive shipments of hundreds upon hundreds of animals. Large or small, male or female, what all of these unwilling expatriates eventually share in common is a life of exploitation in forced breeding, exhibition, or experimentation. The vast majority of these animals likely ended up in research laboratories.

Of course, many other countries besides the United States import monkeys, including Japan and many European nations. Recent estimates place the global number of primate imports at somewhere around 40,000; thus, the U.S. accounts for two-thirds of all known international trade in primates. Of course, some monkeys certainly slip through the international and U.S. record-keeping systems, so the actual number of primates in trade is even higher.

The tyranny of trade
IPPL has been working on the international trade in primates for more than 30 years, and, despite our experience with the issue, we are increasingly troubled by the extent of this commercial activity. The virtual monopoly held by a few large importers dominating trade and the sheer numbers of primates being sold are cause for immediate concern. Another issue is the sourcing of imported primates: starting 30 years ago, the trade in macaques (the most heavily trafficked primates) definitively shifted from southern Asia to Southeast Asia. This is reflected in the fact that two-thirds of the animals imported in 2006 (17,995) arrived from the east via the port of Los Angeles; New York used to be the primary port of entry.

Crab-eating Macaques Top The List of Imported Primates
Top Ten Primate Importing Companies in 2006

The U.S. importers
Three companies were responsible for over 75 percent of all U.S. imports in 2006: Covance, Charles River Laboratories, and Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories (SNBL USA). Besides being importers, all three are contract testing organizations that use animals to perform research for pharamceutical, biomedical, and toxicological purposes. All are multi-million dollar multinational conglomerates that use imported monkeys to make a handsome profit.

  • Covance, the leading U.S. importer of monkeys, has long been the subject of international campaigns against its alleged cruelty to primates. In April 2006 Covance paid a fine of $8,270 levied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on 16 charges of violating the Animal Welfare Act, three of which involved monkeys.
  • Charles River, which was formerly the largest importer, now takes second place with 5,359 monkeys imported last year. However, it imported 1,128 crab-eating macaques in a single shipment alone last August, the largest single importation of these monkeys that year. (In what must have been a very busy month, Covance came in second , with a single shipment of 1,050 crab-eating macaques on 21 August.) Recent inspection reports show that this company was cited with 22 violations of the Animal Welfare Act in 2005. The role of Charles River in the deaths of several chimpanzees in 2004 has also been a source of controversy.

  • SNBL USA is a relatively new kid on the block for imports, but it is certainly a bully when it comes to primates. Though SNBL imported over 3,000 primates in 2006, the USDA blasted them for failing to have a full-time veterinarian on staff. Reports show that their monkeys have suffered greatly and several have died of untreated injuries and emaciation. The massive expansion at their Everett, Washington, facility may be explained by their booming imports from Cambodia, which increased tenfold in 2006 from the previous year.

    Some U.S. importers now even control collecting centers in habitat countries, where wild-caught monkeys can be held, females can be bred, and monkeys for export can be housed prior to shipment. For example, Covance has a 47 percent major interest in one such facility (Noveprim), which exports monkeys from Mauritius (and which was the source of the 1,050-macaque shipment last August). Operations like SNBL USA that are based overseas can even export monkeys directly to their own U.S. facilities.

    Crab-eating macaques in trouble
    The trends in primate imports also indicate that not only are more primates being forced into trade, but the species being sold have changed over the years. Prior to the bans on monkey exports enacted by India (1978) and Bangladesh (1979), both of which were engineered by IPPL, the majority of monkeys imported to the U.S. were rhesus macaques. As a result, India’s rhesus macaque populations were decimated by trade in the 1960s and 1970s.

  • Rhesus and Crab-eating Macaques: Trading Places in the Marketplace

    Now, most of the U.S. monkey imports are crab-eating macaques (also known as long-tailed macaques, cynomolgus monkeys, or “cynos”). The primary exporter of these animals is China, even though the species is not native to that country: the exported animals were either captive-born there or imported into China (legally or not) for re-export. In 2006, 24,480 crab-eating macaques were imported into the U.S. alone, mostly from China. This species may be doomed if wholesale trade predation is not controlled.

    In fact, China dominates the entire monkey export market and is officially listed as the country of origin for about half of all monkeys imported to the U.S. in 2006. China is followed by Vietnam, Mauritius, and Cambodia. Cambodian monkey imports (all of which were crabeating macaques) increased from 0 in 2004 to 240 in 2005, and then to 2,532 in 2006. Given that the gestation period for crab-eating macaques is six months and that the babies normally nurse until 12 or 18 months of age, it is hard to understand how the trade in captive-born monkeys (the status listed for all shipments coming from Cambodia) could go from 0 to over 2,500 in less than 24 months! Certainly, this is a pattern that deserves greater scrutiny by USFWS law enforcement division, the USDA, and the Centers for Disease Control, all of which regulate various aspects of primate importation.

    Primary Source Countries for 2006 Primate Imports to the U.S.

    An anonymous source working in Cambodia has reported to IPPL on some of the conditions of the trade in wildcaught crab-eating macaques. According to this source:

    The trade is hideously cruel. Macaques are transported in small gauze-type bags in the backs of cars, usually on ice. This keeps them quiet apparently. It will also keep the meat fresher if they die. They are also stock-piled in forests near the Vietnamese border in bags and people carry them over the border....

    Destructive practices are involved in their capture. A troupe can be isolated in a tree. The surrounding trees are felled preventing the macaques’ escape. Nets are placed around the remaining trees, which are then felled and the monkeys captured....

    The macaque problem is serious. People are making a lot of money out of the trade, and because macaques are reasonably common and less charismatic than some other animals, their plight is being ignored.

    Wild or not?
    Many countries with free-living monkeys are aware of the seemingly insatiable appetite of the United States and other importing nations for monkeys. Unfortunately, these primate habitat countries seem all-too ready to export animals who form part of their national treasure, with apparently no regard for their future well-being and the horrible nature of some of the experiments the animals will be forced to endure.

    Of the nearly 27,000 monkeys imported last year, some were listed by the USFWS as wild-caught, although most official import declarations described their monkeys as “captiveborn.” However, it is important to remember that some import declarations may be false, a fact well-illustrated by the famous prosecution of the 1997 “Baby Monkey” case. In 2002, a U.S. company (doing business as LABS of Virginia at the time of the imports) and three of its officials were indicted on charges of importing wild-caught Indonesian monkeys on documents falsely declaring them to be captivebred. The company was eventually fined $500,000.

    Of course, whether or not animals were born in the wild or captivity is not material to the extent of their suffering. At the very least, even the captive breeding farms were originally stocked with freeliving monkeys who were stolen from their natural habitats and families. These animals and their offspring live in dreadful conditions long before they are crated and shipped off to their fate in the U.S. And the numbers of these unfortunate animals is dramatically increasing.

    For a spreadsheet that gives the details of primates imported to the U.S. in 2006,please e-mail IPPL (