National Anti-vivisection Society


National Antivisection Society

Primate trade exposed in Mauritius

Posted: 31 January 2014. Updated: 28 March 2014

An investigation by the NAVS has revealed the hidden suffering of primates bred for research on the tropical island of Mauritius – one of the biggest suppliers of laboratory monkeys in the world, sending thousands to miserable deaths around the world.

Our undercover team gained access to this secret world at one of the key breeding facilities – Biodia – and we recorded horrific scenes:

  • Baby monkeys torn from their screaming mothers to be tattooed.
  • Pregnant monkeys manhandled and pinned down in terrifying routine procedures
  • Screaming monkeys being swung by their tails

Watch video clips from our investigation

It’s a very different world to the sanitised one the research industry presents in public and it highlights the failure by the European Parliament to move towards an end to using wild-caught monkeys for breeding, and for a timetable to be set to end all experiments on primates across Europe.

If you want us to keep exposing the truth and campaigning to end this suffering DONATE NOW and then read on to find out how you can help end the suffering. We need your help to help them!


Monkeys snatched from the wild
Biodia continues to take monkeys from the wild, terrifying the animals and destroying family groups. Some wild monkeys are sold for vivisection, but often dealers do this to restock their breeding factory farms – enabling them to claim they are captive bred animals. We secured measures under the new EU Directive on animal experiments to try and eliminate this practice but it will be years before these are enforced.

Barren cages
Instead of the forest these animals live in cages – breeding cages, then smaller weaning cages, export cages and finally transport cages. In the larger concrete floored cages, crowded with monkeys, terror spreads quickly when the workers come to catch monkeys. Other monkeys were filmed in isolation in small cages barely larger than themselves. Most have little, if any, enrichment; sadly these are the conditions many will endure in the laboratory too.

Brutal and frightening handling
Monkeys are routinely captured by grabbing and swinging the animals back and forth by their tails, and then restraining them by pinning their arms behind their backs. Nets are also used, and the stress can cause monkeys to suffer diarrhoea, rectal prolapse and lacerations. Frightening and painful procedures included monkeys being pinned down by several workers to have blood sampled and repeated testing for tuberculosis which involves the animals being injected into the upper eyelid. As tiny babies the fully conscious monkeys are tattooed with the numbers used to identify them as they are sold around the world for research.

Babies torn from mothers
In one especially harrowing sequence filmed by our investigators a tiny infant monkey is torn from his screaming mother’s arms and then pinned down and tattooed. The baby monkeys are routinely taken from their mothers and are weaned at 10-12 months old, two months earlier than they would naturally be. Premature weaning can cause abnormal behaviours in later life and compromise the health of the individual – but these animals are not destined for a long life they are destined for laboratory experiments.

Journey of death

Once sold the monkeys are packed into small traveling crates and shipped all over the world to be experimented on, including Europe and the USA. It is probably the last time they will see daylight – a typical, direct flight to the UK will take about 12 hours, flights with transfers longer – before their crate is loaded into a vehicle and driven to the final destination. There, at the laboratory, the crate is finally opened.

During a previous NAVS investigation our field officer saw monkeys arriving at Huntingdon Life Sciences after being shipped from Vietnam: “The Monkeys arrived at HLS after midnight, in individual compartments in rectangular wooden crates with a handle at each end. The individual monkey compartments did not allow the animals to stand upright[31]. On arrival most monkeys were frightened and cowered at the back of the box.”

A review of studies in the journal Laboratory Animal noted that the cynomolgus (long-tailed) macaque ”is the type which most frequently has to undergo transportation, yet it is possibly the macaque species least able to respond satisfactorily to it”[30].

Many airlines have taken an ethical stance concerning the transportation of primates for research, following opposition from animal protection groups and the public. However a few airlines continue to play a fundamental role in the trade, between them transporting thousands of primates each year across the globe. The only passenger airline now involved in the trade is Air France which, according to a senior Biodia staff member, ”can take a pallet of 80 animals” and continues to fly out monkeys from Mauritius.

What their fate will be

The monkeys at the Biodia facility are already suffering but the worst is yet to come. Individuals will be flown to all corners of the globe on demand to be used in painful experiments. The most recent figures reveal that almost a thousand monkeys from Mauritius were imported into the UK for experiments in 2012.

In the laboratory, these intelligent and gentle animals will be subjected to procedures such as:

Safety testing where monkeys are often physically restrained in chairs – something so stressful for them it can cause rectal prolapse – and then forced to inhale, or have substances pumped directly into their stomachs. Effects of the test substance can manifest a range of debilitating symptoms, including vomiting, blocked lungs, collapse, self-mutilation and death, as witnessed during our investigation of Huntington Life Sciences.

In neurology tests monkeys may have bolts and electrodes permanently implanted into their heads and endure being immobilised during procedures to permanent head holders being attached which will restrain their heads so that electrodes can be inserted into their brains, to record brain activity. For experiments, animals may be deprived of food and water then restrained by their metal headpiece for hours at a time. This was the fate of Elisa at Institute of Neurology.

Legal protection

After our intense campaign, a commitment was secured in the European Parliament to end the use of wild-caught primates and apes in research; to limit experiments on primates; and to end the use of monkeys born of wild caught monkeys (to close the loophole that allows breeders like Biodia to restock their factory farms from the wild whilst the laboratories they supply say they do not use wild caught animals). However progress has been slow. The first step towards this is a feasibility study to be published no later than 10th November 2017, with certain species phased out 5 years after this date.

In the UK, the NAVS has called on the government to set standards for overseas primate suppliers but it has stated that it is unable to do so. Despite claims that these facilities are inspected, an investigation by NAVS of Vietnamese supplier Nafovanny revealed that Home Office inspectors were simply directed away from areas of concern.

This means that animals will be kept in conditions that may very well be illegal in this country.

Help end the suffering!

Please send a donation today – to help ensure we can keep exposing the suffering and campaigning for change. Painstaking investigations like this to secure footage inside these secret facilities are difficult and expensive – but we need to be there to tell the story for the animals.

Contact us today for leaflets highlighting the suffering – help spread the word.

Contact Air France KLM to tell them that you will be flying with other airlines until they pledge to stop transporting primates for research.

Contact your MP and contact your MEP and urge them to press for and support a phase-out of the use of primates in research.

© National Anti-Vivisection Society