The numbers of nonhuman primates used in research has gradually increased in the last decade and significantly exceeds the numbers of nonhuman primates used when the USDA first began to record numbers of animals utilized in research. In 1973, the first year for which records were kept, 42,298 nonhuman primates were used, and in 2006, the latest year for which records are available, 62,315 were used. These figures do not take into account the nonhuman primates used for breeding. In addition, 47% of nonhuman primates, some 29,000 individuals, were subjected to painful and distressful experiments in 2006.
Primates are increasingly used in pharmaceutical and bioterrorism experiments, and researchers continue to promote the “development of a portfolio of non-human primate models for a variety of human diseases and conditions.” For example, primates are used in experiments related to infectious disease (e.g., AIDS, malaria, TB, Lyme disease, Ebola), cardiovascular disease, diabetes, drug abuse, xenotransplantation (cross-species transplants), toxicology, vaccinations, age-related research, gene therapy, neurosciences, and reproductive biology. Primates have rich emotional and social lives, however, and suffer greatly when confined in laboratory settings and used in scientific procedures.
Cynomolgus macaques (Macaca fascicularis), also known as crab-eating macaques, make up the majority of non-human primates imported for research. Rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) are the second most imported primate species. Other highly-imported species include common marmosets, squirrel monkeys, olive baboons, vervet monkeys (also known as grivet or African green monkeys), and night monkeys (also known as owl monkeys). Wild populations of primates all across the world are being devastated to supply the research community.
The chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) is the only nonhuman great ape species used in biomedical research. The majority of research involving chimpanzees is invasive, meaning that the projects involve infectious agents, drug testing, and/or surgery or biopsy. Because of their similarity to humans, chimpanzee research in particular raises serious ethical and scientific concerns, and there is growing public support in the U.S. for a ban on the use of chimpanzees in research.
There have been milestones along the way towards that goal. In May of 2007, after prodding from AAVS and other concerned organizations, the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Research Resources announced that it would permanently end the breeding of government-owned chimpanzees. In December of that same year, the Chimp Haven is Home Act was signed into law, closing a loophole in the 1999 Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance, and Protection (CHIMP) Act and assuring permanent retirement in sanctuaries for chimpanzees who have been removed from federal laboratories.
Great Britain, New Zealand, The Netherlands, and Japan have already restricted or prohibited great ape research.
Read More about Non-Human Primates Used in Research“Great Ape Research: Exposing the hard facts and pursuing a ban,” AV Magazine Summer 2003.
While much of the world acknowledges the questionable ethics involved in using great apes in research, the U.S. lags far behind as it continues to condone experiments involving primates.
“Weeds, Pests, Needs, and Surplus: The rising use of non-human primates in the United States,” AV Magazine Summer 2003.
Presents an overview of the status of the use of primates in the U.S., with an analysis of data regarding the importation of primates and the numbers of primates currently being utilized in experiments. In reviewing this information, and alarming trend is uncovered: the use of primates in biomedical research is on the rise.
“Primate Experimentation and Testing: From the forests to the lab,” AV Magazine Spring 2006.
Despite the fact that the use of chimpanzees in research is declining, the use of monkeys such as macaques is on the rise.
Number of non-human primates used in research from 1973-2006