China Airlines Drops Monkey Business

By Neville Judd

SACRAMENTO, California, September 21, 2000 (ENS) - China Airlines, the second largest transporter of non-human primates destined for research in U.S. laboratories, has announced it will no longer accept such business. The largest carrier, Air France, will continue.

Every year, commercial airlines transport to the United States more than 10,000 non-human primates such as baboons, Rhesus macaques, Owl monkeys and marmosets.

rhesus monkey

Rhesus monkeys are commonly used in studies on human blood chemistry and were among those species transported to the U.S. by air last year. (Photo courtesy Vincent Massey Collegiate, Winnipeg)
Animals shipped as cargo for long distances generally suffer from cramped conditions, inadequate ventilation, and extreme temperature fluctuations, often ending with illness or even death, according to the U.S. Animal Protection Institute (API).

In June, together with the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, the API launched a transatlantic campaign to end the international trade in primates for use in experimentation.

Because they are physiologically similar to humans, monkeys are commonly used in research. Rhesus monkeys in particular have been used extensively in studies on human blood chemistry and psychological studies carried out on the animals have aided understanding of infant-mother relationships in humans.

India now bars export of Rhesus monkeys because such studies have significantly reduced their numbers.

The joint campaign bore fruit last week when the API received a letter at its Sacramento, California headquarters from China Airlines. "Effective September 5, 2000, China Airlines will not accept live primates destined for experimentation as cargo," said the letter.

Documents obtained by API under the Freedom of Information Act show that the Taiwan based airline was the second largest transporter of non-human primates to the U.S last year. It carried 17 shipments totalling 2,161 Long-tailed macaque monkeys to Madison, Wisconsin based biopharmaceutical company Covance, Wake Forest University in North Carolina and New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana.


Air France is the largest transporter of non-human primates to the U.S. (Photo courtesy Air France)
Air France carried 27 shipments totalling 3,274 Long-tailed macaques. All the shipments originated in Mauritius and reached Chicago or Houston via Paris. "From there, the monkeys are usually picked up by animal dealers and sold to research institutes," API programming director Dena Jones told ENS.

North American vice president of Air France cargo Bernard Fratinni said the company is not about to stop carrying non-human primates.

"It's a very small part of our business," Fratinni told ENS. "What we transport is checked by U.S. government officials and complies with U.S. laws. Since there is no embargo by the U.S. government, we don't plan to stop."

Fratinni directed questions concerning the conditions under which monkeys are transported to Air France's postal address in Paris.

Sandy Cleva, spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife law enforcement section said 91 officers are responsible for ensuring the Code of Federal Regulations on humane transport of animals are complied with.

"Obviously that's a lot fewer than customs officers, but there are specific points of entry for imports on animals and birds," said Cleva.

According to the Code of Federal Regulations, animal enclosures must be, "large enough to ensure that the animal has sufficient space to turn around freely in a normal manner, lie down, stand up (as appropriate for the species), and sit in a normal upright position without its head touching the top of the enclosure."

It continues, "However, a primate may be restricted in its movements according to professionally accepted standards of care when greater freedom of movement would constitute a danger to the primate or to its handler or other persons."

owl monkey

Owl monkeys were among those species transported to the U.S. last year. (Photo courtesy Beaver College Psychobiology)
On ventilation, the code says "ventilation openings must be located on at least two walls of a primary enclosure."

On care, the code says, "A non-human primate shall be provided water suitable for drinking within four hours prior to commencement of transport to the U.S. unless the shipper's written instructions direct otherwise. A carrier shall provide suitable drinking water to any primate at least every 12 hours after acceptance for transport to the U.S., unless instructed in writing to do so more frequently by the shipper.

"After acceptance for transport, and unless otherwise instructed in writing by the shipper, a carrier shall provide suitable food to any non-human primate at least once every 12 hours."

Other airlines have voluntarily imposed embargoes on shipping primates. Delta Airlines implemented an embargo in June, joining TWA, United, and Continental in refusing to transport monkeys to the U.S. for experimentation. American Airlines continues to ship primates for research and did not return ENS calls.

"We urge Air France and other airlines still importing primates to follow the compassionate example of China Airlines and remove themselves from an industry that causes animal misery on a massive scale," said API executive director Alan Berger.

Berger commended China Airlines for "recognizing the consequences of its actions."

"The decision makes both ethical and economic sense. People become outraged when they discover they may be flying with formerly wild, research bound monkeys in the cargo hold of the plane."

Two years ago Air France stopped transporting non-human primates on passenger planes and now uses cargo planes instead.

Other airlines that transported monkeys for research last year include Amerijet, Aeroflot, Aero Peru, Air China, China Eastern, Egypt Air, El-Al, Japan Airlines and KLM.