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Primate testing in Europe

Husbandry-related welfare issues

In the wild, cynomolgus macaques live mainly in trees, in large troops of 50-100 animals, with an average home range of almost a kilometre. The family group can wander over a distance of up to 1.5km per day[53].

These monkeys have shown intelligence and emotion in the laboratory. One paper described,“Following treatment he would cry if placed in his cage immediately, because he wanted to spend a little more time outside being held or groomed by the attending technician”[54]. This monkey was therefore aware of his actions and was able to moderate his behaviour in order to affect the behaviour of other animals – in this case his human carer. The animal is therefore aware of how his behaviour can evoke a specific behaviour in other animals – not just those of his own species.

Recently, it has been noted that cynomolgus macaques have carried out successful fishing behaviour, which others in the group observed and attempted to copy[55], thus demonstrating intelligence, sentience, and components of a culture.

The investigator’s descriptions and photographs show the group enclosures to be barren and uninteresting[21], whereas guidelines for the care of captive primates recommend that enclosures “should ordinarily allow the animal to adopt as wide a behavioural repertoire as possible, provide it with a sense of security, and a suitably complex environment to allow the animal to run, walk, climb, jump, and sleep comfortably. Materials providing tactile stimuli are also valuable”[56]. Clearly the facilities at HLS are small, impoverished in terms of enrichment, have no natural light, have a substrate of metal or a hard tarmac-like surface and would be unlikely to be acceptable in any modern zoo.

No objects of real enrichment value were provided to the monkeys to engage their interest, stimulate thinking and manipulate, operate or investigate (e.g. puzzle feeders). Where some enrichment was added to the cages it was of poor quality and included plastic dumbbells, nylabones/rings, mirrors and metal triangles. The monkeys were given one toy between 8 animals[32], so invariably, these were monopolised by the more dominant animals. The investigator had been told that puzzle feeders were “too expensive”[57].

HLS should be aware of expert advice on the keeping of laboratory monkeys, for example, “It may be necessary to provide a number of devices to group-housed animals so that more animals have access”[58]. And, “The variety of effective feeding enrichment options for captive primates is impressive and an incentive to provide all animals with means to express their drive to gather and process food”[59].

A study of stress in captive macaques found “A husbandry practice as simple as dispersal of food can profoundly affect both behavioural and physiological responses in macaques”[60]. However at HLS, the monkeys were either fed by food hopper, or food was simply scattered on the floors of the cages.

It would therefore be difficult to describe the HLS primate facilities as anything more than the bare minimum. This is a wealthy company providing these highly intelligent animals with just enough to sustain them before they are experimented upon. As a result, negative impacts on the animals arose from the nature of the housing: A monkey in a unit where a diabetes drug was being tested was discovered with blood on its face, on the back of the cage and the ends of the animal’s toes were missing. Some staff suggested that the monkey had chewed off its own toes, however the investigator noted that the wounds were clean straight cuts and concluded that the animal was more likely to have trapped its foot in some part of the cage and sliced them off trying to free itself, and then put its foot in its mouth. Missing digits were not considered to be an uncommon occurrence[61].

Such injuries indicate that the monkeys had access to sharp metal edges when they reached through their cages, which is extremely poor management and design. Again, HLS is in the position to benefit from advice provided in standard texts on working with primates “cage design should minimise the risk of skin penetration, whether from sharp metal, rough surfaces, a fingernail or a bite. They should be made without sharp edges internally or externally”[62].

A male monkey on the Humab study cut his hand open; this was glued by the vet, but became unglued 10 minutes later[63]. A female cut her arm, possibly on the food hopper. The vet cleaned the wound and applied two staples, which she removed on returning to her cage; she was re-caught, her injury was glued shut and she was given an anti-inflammatory [64].

The high level of handling that the monkeys must endure in a laboratory environment also increases the risk of injury from caging. At HLS monkeys would get scrapes whilst being removed from their cages and animals were also seen running into the glass doors at the ends of the units[65]. One monkey caught his head on the cage whilst being removed and it required 8 staples to close the wound[66].

Training the animals with rewards would reduce escape attempts and therefore injuries; it would make handling less stressful for both animals and staff. It has been recommended that “On both welfare and scientific grounds efforts should always be made to train the animals to accept handling and so avoid capture/restraint and/or sedation”[67].

Monkeys are dextrous, intelligent and will make efforts to escape the inhospitable laboratory environment. Two females escaped during the Humab tests (see Humab study, later), because their cage was not properly secured.One got into a cage with 3 large males and was attacked and possibly raped. Her face was bruised and battered, a finger was bitten, her genital area was scratched and bruised and her anus was ripped and covered in mucus. She was given antibacterials, painkillers and emergency contraception[68]. Less than four months later, two males and two females, from the same test escaped their cages overnight. The animals had broken their own cage doors open[69].

The second incident would indicate that security was either not increased, or if measures were taken, they were inadequate. Whilst being removed from a cage for bleeding during the HIV vaccine study, a female monkey escaped and ran across the fronts of the cages; three males in one cage grabbed her and she was bitten[70].

Three males and a female on the HIV study escaped by breaking the locks on their cages. They were discovered on a Sunday morning, with the female hiding under the cages. The customer was informed and requested that chains be placed around all the female monkeys’ doors[71]. However, the chains holding a cage door shut had sharp edges and one pierced the cheek of a female monkey, leaving her unable to eat; as a result she was force-fed twice a day. She was treated with an antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory[72]. It should have been possible to secure these sharp ends away from the animals, especially since a similar incident had occurred a few weeks earlier, with another monkey[73].

Prevention of such injuries should be top priority for companies such as HLS and its clients (for example GlaxoSmithKline profits for 2007, after taxation, were £5,310 million[74]). Broken doors, rough-edged chains and substandard facilities are inexcusable.

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