Hundreds of Wild-Caught Monkeys from Indonesia Imported by USA During 2022 for Research and Toxicity Testing

Hundreds of Wild-Caught Monkeys from Indonesia Imported by USA During 2022 for Research and Toxicity Testing

Hundreds of long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) captured in the wild in Indonesia have been imported by the USA for the research and toxicity (poisoning) testing industry. This happened despite widespread global concerns about the inherent inhumanity of trapping wild monkeys and increasing awareness of the vulnerability of the Conservation status of this species.

Indonesia sets quotas for wild capture and export of monkeys

In 2021, after many years of prohibition, the government of Indonesia allowed the capture and export of wild long-tailed macaques to resume. Capture and export quotas for 2,070 individuals were allocated to two companies, CV Primaco and CV Inquatex. In 2022, 870 wild-caught macaques were imported from Indonesia by the US company Primate Products based in Florida.

Capturing monkeys in the wild

There are widespread global concerns about the inherent inhumanity of trapping wild monkeys. The European Union and the UK have bans on the use of wild-caught monkeys in laboratories. Despite the extreme suffering involved in forcibly removing monkeys from their natural habitat, families, and social groups, the US continues to allow wild-caught monkeys to be imported by non-human primate supply and user companies.

In 2022, Action for Primates released harrowing video footage of the capture of wild long-tailed macaques in Indonesia. The footage provided compelling evidence of the cruelty of the trappers and the suffering experienced by the monkeys.

This included brutal capture methods and violence against the monkeys, the forced separation of nursing infants from their mothers, and the beating and killing of unwanted individuals. Trappers used large nets to encircle an area, hacking down the foliage and entrapping the monkeys within.

The animals were then forcibly removed by hand by the trappers, often dragged out by their non-prehensile tails, risking spinal injury. Unwanted males were killed. In one appalling act of brutality, a captured alpha male was brutally beaten with a pole.

Dazed and injured, he was dragged by his tail and then held down and repeatedly stabbed. Trappers joked and laughed while handling the distressed animals. Once caught, the monkeys were stuffed singly into small sacks or were roughly forced into bamboo crates. Such treatment was a clear breach of international animal welfare guidelines established by the International Primatological Society.

Concerns over the global Conservation status of long-tailed macaques

Long-tailed macaques are listed in Appendix II by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). In 2022, the Conservation status of the species was increased from Vulnerable to Endangered (with a decreasing population trend) by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

The IUCN assessment was based on the current degree of exploitation of the species. Threats identified to long-tailed macaques include habitat loss and degradation, as well as their national and international trade, hunting, capture for the ‘pet’ trade, and killing as a ‘pest’ species. If something is not done now to change the trend, it is expected that the species will be on the verge of extinction in the foreseeable future.

Lack of protection for long-tailed macaques in Indonesia

Long-tailed macaques are indigenous to Indonesia, and part of the rich and diverse ecosystem. The species, however, is not protected under Indonesian law. In addition to the capture and export for the global research and toxicity testing industry, its wild populations face many other threats, including hunting for human consumption; capture as ‘pets’ or being used in tourism and ‘entertainment’ activities, including the disturbing rise in baby macaque abuse videos filmed for broadcast on social media; and killing due to negative interactions with people.

Such negative interactions arise almost entirely due to human population growth and ever-increasing expansion into and destruction of wildlife habitat. Instead of considering humane methods to address the situation, capture for non-human primate supply and user companies is often allowed, and monkeys are sold to laboratories or breeding companies in Indonesia, or exported overseas. There are, however, humane alternatives that can be used instead, including education programs to help communities prevent negative interactions with monkeys.

Global trade

Long-tailed macaques are the most widely traded non-human primate, with the USA being one of the world’s largest importers and users. Every year, thousands are traded globally, including from Cambodia, Indonesia, Mauritius, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

They are transported on long, grueling journeys, sometimes greater than 30 hours, around the world as cargo by airlines. The suffering inherent in this transportation is the result of the solitary confinement inside small transit crates; exposure to unfamiliar surroundings and loud, unfamiliar noises; and often inadequate ventilation, temperature and humidity fluctuations as well as delays en route.

In 2023, Action for Primates supported a formal rulemaking petition submitted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, urging the US Fish and Wildlife Service to include long-tailed and pig-tailed macaques under the federal Endangered Species Act. It was supported by more than 30 wildlife and scientific organizations from around the world, including Dr Jane Goodall and Dr Birut.

Long-tailed macaques and toxicity testing

Long-tailed macaques are also the most widely used non-human primates in regulatory toxicity testing. Toxicity (or poisoning) testing is carried out by global contract testing organizations on behalf of pharmaceutical and chemical companies. Toxicity testing is intended to assess the adverse reactions to the normal biological functioning of an animal to products or their chemical ingredients, primarily to develop commercial products for use by human beings.

The tests are carried out using different concentrations of the test substance, over various periods. Suffering can be substantial and, depending on the concentration and quantity of the substance and its inherent toxicity, can include lethargy, vomiting, seizures, difficulty breathing, skin problems, weight loss, internal bleeding, organ failure, and death. At the end of the tests, surviving individuals are killed and their tissues examined.

In 2022, the US Congress passed the FDA Modernization Act which ends an outdated Food and Drug Administration mandate that requires experimental drugs to be tested on non-human animals before they can be used on people in clinical trials. The bill will allow drug sponsors the option to use alternative, humane, and human-relevant methods instead.

Although not eliminating animal testing outright, it will open the way for non-animal testing methods to establish a drug’s safety and effectiveness to be used, including cell-based assays, organ-on-a-chip, sophisticated computer modeling, and other human biology-based test methods.

There are growing ethical and scientific objections to the trade and use of non-human primates in research and toxicity testing. The trade in long-tailed macaques, regardless of their source, is inhumane and immoral.

The US must dissociate itself from the extreme cruelty of the global trade by banning all imports of monkeys. This will at least be a start on the responsible road to eliminate the use of monkeys.

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This article by Sarah Kite was first published by One Green Planet on 27 September 2023. Image Credit :Hit1912/Shutterstock.

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