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BUAV Releases Review of Primate Research Carried Out in the UK


A BUAV review of primate research carried out in the UK has revealed that nonhuman primates are being used in invasive experiments that cause extreme distress and suffering despite the so-called ‘special-protection’ granted to them. The review of 118 papers published by UK establishments between 2008 and 2010 was carried out by the BUAV.

The UK is the largest user of non-human primates in the EU. In 2010, at least 2,649 primates were used in some 4,688 experiments (some primates were used more than once). Primates used include new world monkeys (such as marmosets and tamarins) and old world monkeys (such as rhesus and long-tailed macaques).

The BUAV Report has concluded:

• Extremely distressing, invasive and harmful experiments are being conducted on primates despite the ‘special protection’ afforded to them under UK legislation.

• Primates are still being used in experiments that are clearly frivolous or superfluous.

• Primates are being used where alternative approaches would better address the same or similar questions.

• Primates are often used to demonstrate the apparent validity of the research rather than illuminating new information directly related to humans. At times, researchers and their sponsors are choosing to validate new primate ‘models’ rather than develop alternatives to primates.

Furthermore, surprisingly, 72% of the published experiments did not report where the primates came from, 85% did not explicitly state where the experiment was conducted and 46% did not state what happened to the primates at the end of the experiment; 22% did not even report the number of primates they had used.

Primates are highly intelligent beings with complex behavioural, social and psychological needs. Confining them to cages in laboratories, depriving them of most of their natural behaviours, and subjecting them to stressful environments and painful interventions causes significant suffering. There is growing concern about their use in experiments.

The BUAV Report lists examples of experiments, explains the problems of using primates in such research and discusses the alternatives. Examples of recent research carried out in the UK include:

1. Researchers at the MRC/University of Edinburgh Centre for Reproductive Biology carried out experiments to see if exposing unborn baby marmosets to phthalates via the mother would have effects on their sexual organs in early or later life. Pregnant female marmosets were force-fed high doses of phthalate during pregnancy. Some of their babies were then were killed at 1-5 days old while the remaining were killed at 18-21 months old. Studies of human populations have already looked at the effects of phthalates on development.

2. Researchers at the Health Protection Agency, Porton Down, looked at the benefits of a new imaging technique to determine the degree of lung damage caused by tuberculosis. Macaques were infected with the tuberculosis bacterium and observed for clinical signs. The monkeys became ill, showing a shortness of breath, loss of weight, cough and fever. Their chests were repeatedly tested with the new machine. Animals who did not die from the disease were killed at the end of the study (some 12-13 weeks later). There did not seem to be any scientific or ethical reason why this non-invasive machine could not have been assessed using human TB patients.

3. At the University of Oxford, researchers wanted to investigate whether the source of ‘afterimages’ is in the eye or in the brain. In this shocking experiment, they used two monkeys who were anaesthetised and then kept paralysed with a poison throughout the study. Their skulls were sawn open and electrodes were inserted into their brains to record brain activity. Their eyes were forced open and focused on images on a TV screen for testing. They were kept in this paralysed state for five continuous days during which they were kept alive through intravenous fluids. At the end of the experiment, the monkeys were killed. This study was apparently done to confirm data already obtained humanely from humans.

Dr Katy Taylor, BUAV’s Senior Science Advisor stated: “This review of published UK research shows how it is still far too easy to use primates in extremely cruel and destructive experiments, which are wasteful and even frivolous in their design. The legislation introduced 25 years ago designed to give primates ‘special protection’ is clearly failing. It is time to end this shocking abuse of nonhuman primates.”

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