This duo visited breeding farms for monkeys in Laos, where primates are kept in the worst conditions imaginable. Many are then sold for use in scientific experiments, where their fate is even worse. It’s commonplace for the bodies of dead monkeys to not even be removed from the cages.
In 2011, photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur and film director Karol Orzechowski visited a macaque breeding facility in Laos, pretending to be buyers, where thousands of macaques are bred in order to meet the demand for scientific experimentation.
It was a required step to take in order to expose the cruelties of animal testing in the form of a documentary called Maximum Tolerated Dose.
“We had this story,” McArthur told The Dodo. “We said that Karol was buying them for labs, and he was also buying them for people who wanted to buy them for entertainment. We also said that the reason we wanted to shoot on their property was to see if they were being housed in good conditions, and to take [this information] back to our clients in the U.S.”
What they found there was horrendous. “The animals are kept in virtual starvation, exacerbated by the hierarchies formed within the cages; the older males hoard food and the rest fight, often to the death, for the scraps,” McArthur wrote on We Animals page.
“They’re standing in [expletive] and urine, and the bodies of some of their cage mates. Some of them are really young, and they’re plucking around the floor for food. You see animals with injuries—bloody faces, blindness,” said McArthur.
“They bare their teeth. They might charge you and then go into the back of the cage, or they might simply go to the back of the cage,” McArthur added.
While such conditions may sound horrible, this is not the end of the suffering for these distressed animals. They are then sold for scientific experimentation, where their fate is even worse.
“Once in the labs, macaques are used for all kinds of experiments—toxicity experiments, organ transplant experiments, infectious disease experiments and Ebola studies—which often result in death,” Dr. Theodora Capaldo, executive director of New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS), said.
“For example, primates will be used in toxicity testing where animals are given high doses of a new chemical or a new product until 50 percent of them die,” Capaldo continued. “Or an airplane oxygen mask will be secured to their heads, and they’ll be forced to inhale toxic substances. Then they would be killed and their lungs would be examined.”
If through the harrowing ordeal the animals aren’t killed, they are euthanized. Some of the animals are sometimes saved by animal rescue groups. But it is hard to do because the monkeys are quickly replaced in the laboratories. When one group of them is euthanized, another is brought in.
Once in the laboratory, the monkeys are housed separately, which is traumatic in itself as they are known to be social and survive with the support of their troop.
“You’ll see them jumping in endless hoops in a small cage. You’ll see them biting themselves and doing other self-injurious behaviors. You’ll see them biting at the bars until they crack their own teeth. You know that expression, ‘I was so upset, I wanted to pull my hair out?’ Monkeys literally do that. When they’re extremely stressed, they will over-groom to the point where they’re pulling their own hair out,” said Capaldo.
Unfortunately, the use of primates in research is economical and is already a well-established practice in the scientific community.
However, Capaldo states, “The results from animal studies do not necessarily apply to what’s going to happen to a human.”
“We know that what happens in a human male is not necessarily applicable to what happens in a human female. So if a male and female human can’t always predict for each other what would happen, then how can we reliably consider a different species to be predictive of what’s going to happen in a human?”
The duo, in association with Cruelty Free International, reported their findings to CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora].
“In 2016, CITES recommended that all country members suspend trade in long-tailed macaques from Laos,” Sarah Kite, director of Special Projects at Cruelty Free International, said.
“This move effectively stopped Laos from exporting these monkeys for animal research. The ban will be in place until Laos complies with CITES regulations.”
Two of the three farms in Laos subsequently closed down, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.
McArthur states that monkey farms are a business in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, and Indonesia.
“Animal research is at best a poor model,” Capaldo opined. “It’s always a flawed model, and it’s often a dangerous model, and no researcher would deny that. Their argument would be, ‘Well, we have no choice. This is how we need to do it.’ But there are better approaches.”