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Trade for research

Macaques are used in enormous numbers as subjects of research and testing. Historically, this trade involved wild-caught macaques who were captured in the wild and exported globally. Such commercial trapping had a major negative impact on wild populations. In India, prior to 1978, over 100,000 rhesus macaques were trapped annuallyprimarily for export to the United States. Rhesus macaque populations in northern India declined dramatically; in some areas the species was almost completely extirpated. Following India’s ban on rhesus macaque exportation in 1978, demand for long-tailed macaques skyrocketed, and they remain the macaque species most widely used by the global research industry. Long-tailed macaques, too, were subjected to widespread commercial trapping and export in countries across their range.

In recent years, the wild-caught trade has been, on record at least, replaced by the commercial breeding of long-tailed macaques, especially in China, Cambodia, Vietnam and Lao PDR.  Between 2011 and 2015, 206,144 live long-tailed macaques were traded internationally. The rapid development and expansion of macaque breeding farms in South East Asia, which take long-tailed macaques from the wild to establish and maintain "stock", has raised widespread concern about the legitimacy of captive breeding claims, and suspicion of widespread "laundering" - in other words, wild-caught individuals passed off as captive-bred. In November, 2022, six people, including two Cambodian officials, were arrested by the USA and charged with felonies related to macaque laundering activity. 

In 2020, long-tailed macaque were reclassified from Least Concern to Vulnerable by the IUCN, in part due to concerns about large-scale capture for export. Just two years later, in 2022, and for the same reasons, the species was uplisted to Endangered.

There currently exists a much smaller international trade in other macaque species, such as rhesus, southern pig-tailed and Japanese macaques, for scientific, commercial, or biomedical research purposes. CITES records for 2017-2018 indicate that these species are captive-bred or captive-born, although some Japanese macaques were listed as wild-caught. In some countries, macaques may be captured from the wild to be used as breeding animals or for use in experiments in domestic laboratories.

Wild capture for the research industry

The global trade in macaques for research is historically one of monkeys captured from the wild and shipped overseas to primate dealers in Europe and the USA, who would in turn sell the animals on to laboratories for research and testing. The trade in wild-caught macaques is cruel, indiscriminate and inflicts substantial suffering, injuries and mortalities. It has also led to the plundering of wild populations.


Various bodies and organizations recognize the negative consequences of the capture of wild non-human primates, which has led to an international move away from a trade in wild-caught animals.  Several countries have banned the use of such animals in research. The International Primatological Society has stated that “the capture of nonhuman primates from the wild is stressful for the animals and increases the suffering, risk of injuries, spread of disease and even death during capture, storage and transport” and has recently published a policy statement recommending that "biomedical research facilities end their use of wild-caught primates, including those for use for biological sample collection (blood, tissue, etc.), when this requires the extended or permanent removal of individuals from their populations."

The European Union introduced provisions in European Union Directive (2010/63/EU) that end the use of wild-caught non-human primates in research and move towards using only individuals who have been bred in self-sustaining colonies, from parents who themselves have been bred in captivity.

Some countries, including the Philippines and Indonesia, banned the export of wild-caught non-human primates for research in 1994. However,  despite a brief pause, Indonesia continues to export of captive-bred individuals. You can learn more about Indonesia's macaque trade in the Macaque Report: Indonesia's Unportected Primates,  

While a small export trade in wild-caught Japanese macaques for research was recently recorded, in some countries in Asia, macaques may continue to be captured from the wild to be used as breeding animals with their offspring exported for research or for use in experiments in domestic laboratories.

Breeding macaques for research

There has been a move away from the use of wild-caught non-human primates in research due to the suffering inflicted when removing animals from the wild and the the negative impact the trade has on wild populations. As a result, the commercial breeding of long-tailed macaques for export has grown rapidly in East and South East Asia, including China, Cambodia, Vietnam and Lao PDR. The capture of wild individual and concerns about "laundering" are discussed above. 

In breeding facilities, macaques are confined by the thousands in vast industrial complexes. The enclosures are usually pens built of barren concrete and wire mesh, and lack, complexity and enrichment that is so important for the physical and psychological welfare of any captive animal.

There are serious concerns about the lack of welfare legislation and enforcement of international welfare guidelines covering the housing and care of macaques in such breeding facilities. Holding and transportation are additional sources of stress and suffering, as the macaques are shipped on long journeys around the world in the cargo holds of airplanes. 

For further reading, please refer to our Bibliography

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