HUNDREDS of primates are being used in Australia every year in biomedical experiments and many more are housed in breeding facilities awaiting a similar fate. They are subjected to a wide range of procedures which are often invasive.
These primates – macaques, marmosets and baboons – are sourced from three government-funded, research-specific breeding colonies located within Australia – and few Australians are even aware.
In launching a campaign to highlight the use of primates in experiments, Helen Marston, CEO of Humane Research Australia, said today “It is not surprising that so many Australians are shocked to learn that primates are used in experiments in this country because it is a very closed and secretive industry. This is despite the fact that the experiments and indeed the breeding colonies are funded by Australians by way of their taxes.”
Aside from the clear ethical dilemma of using animals with high cognitive abilities and well-developed social structures as mere ‘tools for research’, the use of primates has been found to be poorly predictive of human outcomes and has proven to be ineffective at providing substantial contributions to biomedical research.
The sentient ability of non-human primates is thought to be very similar to ours. They have complex social interactions, they have the ability to form and remember relationships, remember behaviours, mirror tasks, and even make predictions about future interactions. Like humans, primates have a communicative language, they use gestures, facial expressions and body language to interact with one another and their cognitive ability has been argued to rival that of a young child.
Ms Marston said: “It is the sentient, genetic and cognitive similarities to humans which see primates used as models for scientific testing. However, by this same logic, it is exactly these characteristics which show that primates have the ability to suffer both physical and psychological pain. Considering the similarities that humans and primates share, it is unethical to continue testing on them.”
According to the last available statistics (2012), 253 primates were used in experiments in Australia. This represents 167 marmosets, 76 macaques, 3 baboons and 7 unspecified. We have, thus far, been unable to ascertain how many more are currently housed at the breeding facilities.
Humane Research Australia is specifically calling for:
• A ban on primate experiments and replacement with more humane and scientifically-valid (non-animal) methods of research
• A ban on the importation of primates for research
• Establishment of a primate sanctuary for ex-laboratory animals.
Source: Human Research Australia
Image Source: A baby chimpanzee stretches – Credit: Sonja Probst