TRADING IN MISERY: THE SOUTH AFRICAN VIVISECTION INDUSTRY'S EXPLOITATION OF INDIGENOUS PRIMATES
04 JUNE 2008
Animal Rights Africa ARA) is concerned about the fact that e Free State Nature Conservation is supplying wild caught primates to the animal experimentation laboratory of the University of the Free State .
This is in direct contravention of Nature Conservation's undertaking many years ago that all orphaned baby baboons would in future go to the world-renowned Centre for Animal Rehabilitation and Education (CARE) in the Limpopo Province . CARE is world-renowned for proving that orphaned and other traumatised baboons could, if properly rehabilitated, be released back into the wild.
According to Werner Boing, environmental management inspector of the Free State Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, they have no other option than to send these wild caught baboons to the experimental lab at the University of the Free State as they hail from the Southern Free State and their genetic pool is different from the baboons endemic to the Limpopo Province. "This statement is not based on scientific facts," says Rita Miljo, Founder and Director of CARE. "How can it be argued that there are nine genetic pools in South Africa � as if God or Nature conveniently kept in mind that South Africa would be divided into nine provinces? Is South Africa back to adopting old apartheid-style policies? I refer Mr. Boing to Page 218 of "The Mammals of the Southern African Sub Region", revised by John D. Skinner and Christian T. Chimimba in 2005: �We are now questioning the 'genetic material' of a sub-species of a sub-species which in biological terms is called a 'race'."
The need for primate research is far from "self evident" and its validity highly questionable. A growing body of opinion, including many medical and scientific professionals, now believes that other primates are just too different from human beings to serve as �surrogate� humans; they cannot be predictive of the human situation, and one cannot rely on data from primate experiments when extrapolated to humans.
In South Africa baboons and vervet monkeys are often the species of choice - not due to any outstanding scientific properties or especially predictive qualities - but because there is a perception that they are cheap and "available". ARA is also concerned by apparently lucrative financial incentives offered by animal experimentation laboratories to farmers and other suppliers of wild caught baboons and monkeys. At the root of this is the loop-hole that they are considered as vermin, now euphemistically classified as 'problem animals.'
Internationally anti-vivisection organisations draw attention to the use of primates in experiments because they argue that the vivisection industry has acted immorally and ecologically irresponsibly by decimating tens of thousands of indigenous primates and linking into the legal and illegal trade of primates. The capture, transport and trade in wild-caught primates is a cruel and barbaric business. Baboons and vervet monkey who have spent their entire lives in freedom, roaming wild in troops, are ripped from their surroundings and family groups in the most brutal way and then incarcerated in appalling conditions at holding stations.
The use of primates in experiments is not just a welfare and rights issue but also a conservation concern. Internationally, research has shown that for every wild-caught primate that goes to a laboratory between eight and ten have died in the process. Government has been irresponsible and must be brought to task on this issue. There are no official or independently verifiable figures available on the number of indigenous primates in South Africa . The population status, the extent of trapping, mortality rates, the number of permits granted to trap, information relating to holding facilities, the number of primates used in scientific procedures, and the kinds of experiments where primates are used is unknown.
During the last number of decades, exploitative primate research has consumed millions upon millions of rands while it has contributed very little to human welfare. It has diverted funding from non-animal research technology that could have been more productive and from social programmes that could have benefited, directly and indirectly, the majority of South Africans.
There are compelling indications that non-human primates in laboratories suffer intensely, both physically and emotionally. The key capacity that should protect other primates from experimentation is their ability to experience pain, suffering and distress. The notion that humans are unique has been shattered under the weight of new knowledge, and we must urgently review the way we treat other primates. Recognising this, we are ethically obliged to stop using them in experiments.
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