Animal activists call for ban on US monkey imports

Animal activists are calling on the US government to ban imports of primates for laboratory use after a government report revealed that deadly pathogens entered the country through imported monkeys from Cambodia.

The report detailed that between 2018-2021, six cases of Burkholderia pseudomallei were identified in such imported primates from Cambodia. The rare but deadly disease has a mortality rate of up to 50% with the potential to act as a bioterrorism agent.

Direct transmission of the disease from animals to humans is rare but can occur. There are about 12 human cases a year in the US, mostly in travellers to Asia or Northern Australia.

Published last week, the case report reveals that one of the macaques entered the US from Cambodia by air, along with 359 others and was diagnosed with B pseudomallei while at a Texas quarantine in January 2021. The macaque was euthanised. The report reveals that the other 359 monkeys “appeared healthy at the end of the quarantine period.”

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Dr Lisa Jones-Engel, a PETA adviser, told the Guardian

“Monkeys imported from Asia can harbour the Burkholderia pathogen for months, shedding the bacteria via their feces, urine, blood and saliva into the environment. The CDC knows the danger to humans and has failed to warn the public.”

The report identified five other macaques from Cambodia in other shipments that were diagnosed with B pseudomallei, one during quarantine, and four others several months after they’d been released from quarantine.

Primates who were dead on arrival increased from two in 2017 to 11 in 2021, and monkeys dying in quarantine increased from 29 to 125. Primates who were ill, but were recovered and released, rose from five to 119 with the overall mortality rates increasing from 31 to 136 over five years.

Long-tailed Macaques Sent to the United States For Laboratory Experiment Die During Plane Journey | Nature World News
Long-tailed macaques, native to Thailand, are the most heavily traded primate and are now endangered in part due to exploitation by the research industry.

Historically, China exported the majority of macaques to the US but ceased trading during the coronavirus pandemic. This, combined with increased demand, has resulted in a rise in exports from Cambodia.

The number of macaques exported from Cambodia to the US rose from 6,000 in 2018 to 19,000 in 2021. The US is the only country to have legally imported wild macaques since 2014.

Cambodia has eight monkey farms. However, the industry has come under scrutiny from animal activists when in November this year, federal prosecutors charged eight members of a primate smuggling ring for their role in laundering 3,000 endangered wild macaques from Cambodia to US commercial exporters. The US justice department’s indictment charges two Cambodian government wildlife officials, and the owner and staffers from Vanny Bio Resources, a macaque supplier in Cambodia. The indictment includes two unnamed co-conspirators in the US in Alice, Texas, and Miami.



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Jon Whitman

Jon Whitman is a seasoned journalist and author who has been living and working in Asia for more than two decades. Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, Jon has been at the forefront of some of the most important stories coming out of China in the past decade. After a long and successful career in East sia, Jon is now semi-retired and living in the Outer Hebrides. He continues to write and is an avid traveller and photographer, documenting his experiences across the world.

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