A row has broken out over the fate of at least 1,000 endangered monkeys imported to the US from Cambodia for a testing laboratory and might be killed or returned home “to be trafficked again”, say activists.
The long-tailed macaques were among several shipments imported by Charles River Laboratories (CRL) in the past six months, and denied clearance because the lab could not show that they were not caught from the wild, according to animal-rights organisation Peta.
Now the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) must decide whether they will be put down, handed to a sanctuary or sent back to Asia.
In 2021, monkeys being flown to the US for laboratory research died in crates on the plane.
USFWS officials have been carrying out a five-year investigation into the laundering of wild-caught monkeys from Cambodia, and earlier this month they announced importers must be able prove with a DNA test yet to be developed that monkeys bound for laboratories were bred in captivity.
In November the US Department of Justice charged eight alleged members of an international primate-smuggling ring over importing wild long-tailed macaques into the US.
And last month CRL received a subpoena over its investigation.
Wildlife experts say the capture of wild Asian monkeys is not only cruel but also pushes the species to the brink of extinction.
But scientific researchers who use animals for developing drugs for medical treatments say there is a worldwide shortage of monkeys for experiments, with global demand exceeding supply.
About 40 conservationists have signed a letter, written by Peta and Born Free USA, to the chief executive and 10 biggest shareholders of CRL, asking for an urgent meeting at which the animal-rights campaigners will ask the company to co-operate in handing over the animals to their care.
The letter reads: “You… stated that you intended to fully cooperate with the government with regard to the monkeys who were allegedly illegally taken from their wild homes. You now have the opportunity to do what is right and protect those monkeys from further harm.
“You will be aware that there is an ongoing investigation into the import of non-human primates from Cambodia and evidence that monkeys, including those under question in your custody, have been illegally trafficked.
“It stands to reason that returning the monkeys to Cambodia will only result in their being recycled through the same corrupt system.”
It adds: “In your recent financial statement announcement, you said: ‘At Charles River, we are committed to conducting ethical, regulatory-compliant business practices, to being good corporate citizens, and to the humane treatment of the research models under our care’.”
The Born Free sanctuary in Texas has offered to take the macaques.
CRL’s website says: “When animal models are required, the research is highly regulated to ensure responsible, ethical, and humane treatment.”
A spokesperson for the company told The Independent it had voluntarily suspended planned future shipments of Cambodian non-human primates (NHPs) “until such time we and the US Fish and Wildlife Service can develop and implement new procedures to reinforce confidence that the NHPs we import from Cambodia are purpose-bred”.
She added: “While these discussions with US Fish and Wildlife Service are ongoing, we have also agreed to continue to care for the Cambodia-sourced non-human primates from these shipments.”