Monkey farms in Laos are operating with impunity, according to official sources, although authorities have ordered them closed over concerns of sanitation and amidst claims of inhumane treatment by an animal rights group.
The farms remain open to feed a growing demand for laboratory research, officials say. Laos has exported an estimated 35,000 monkeys in the past seven years, mostly to the U.S. and EU via third countries such as China and Vietnam, according to animal rights groups.
Several farms in central Vientiane prefecture and Borikhamxay province had stopped operations following an order by the central authorities.
But those in at least in one province—Champasak province—are operating with impunity.
“Monkey farms are still operating legally,” a provincial official told RFA Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The authorities have not said anything.”
The official said most of the farms imported monkeys from Vietnam and Cambodia in 2000 to breed and raise in Laos, with the hope of selling them abroad to private research firms.
The official said the farms in Champasak province are mostly owned by Vietnamese. “They recently sent monkeys to an area near Kilometer 39 in Pathumphone district for vaccination testing.”
Monkeys in the Champasak farms now number around 1,200, he said, but owners have not attempted to export them yet because they are still too few and are “below standard.”
The order by central authorities to shutter the monkey farms coincided with the closure of farms in central Borikhamxay province and Vientiane prefecture.
An official in Borikhamxay confirmed that all monkey farms in the province had been ordered closed.
“[Authorities] have stopped operations at the monkey farms,” the official told RFA.
“They received a complaint letter from an environment official. The community is likely to protest against the monkey farms because they are affecting the sanitation of the area,” he said.
“Without government permission, they are forced to close down. Now they are gone, but I’m not sure where they have moved to.”
Last week, a forest and agriculture official told RFA that monkey farms in Vientiane and Borikhamxay, which had been established by Chinese investors, were forced to close due to an official Chinese ban on the import of monkeys for laboratory research.
He said that the ban had delivered a financial blow to the Chinese investors from which they could not recover.
“There is one farm in Borikhamxay and one in Vientiane that are legal. But now they will shut down because the Chinese have stopped buying. They have had to close,” he said.
“They don’t export any more so they don’t have any money. They can’t send [the monkeys] to China. They had raised money to run the farms, but have not exported because of the ban on importing [in China].”
The same official also said that the monkey trade had existed in Laos for “a long time,” adding that anyone could purchase monkeys for U.S. $500 apiece.
News of the ban and subsequent closure of monkey farms in Vientiane and Borikhamxay also accompanied a damning report on the industry in Laos by a British animal protection group.
In a statement released last week, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) said that Laos has exported nearly 35,000 long-tailed macaques since 2004 as part of a growing trade in the species for research.
“Appalling conditions and treatment of monkeys inside the breeding farms ... breach internationally recognized animal welfare guidelines," the BUAV said, based on an investigation it undertook in the field and talks with owners of the companies that trade in the animals.
The report claimed that companies in China and Vietnam acted as go-betweens in a monkey trade that originates in the Lao farms and ends in laboratories in the U.S. and E.U.
BUAV also alleged that some of the farms may have taken advantage of lax regulation in Laos to take monkeys from the wild, allowing them to cut costs associated with breeding.
Reported by Krongkran Koyanakhul for RFA’s Lao service. Translated by Bounchanh Mouangkham. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.