Monkeys Sent to US Died of Trauma En Route

Five monkeys raised in Cambodia died en route to a medical testing laboratory in the U.S. late last year and another 20 were euthanized upon arrival due to poor conditions during transport, a U.S. animal rights group has alleged.

In a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in May and obtained Wednesday, the Ohio-based Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) group says the macaques died from unspecified “traumatic injuries” that went untreated by the importer.

Four monkeys sit in a cage at a macaque farm in Kompong Chhnang province in a photograph taken in 2012 by investigators from the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection. (BUAV)
Four monkeys sit in a cage at a macaque farm in Kompong Chhnang province in a photograph taken in 2012 by investigators from the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection. (BUAV)

The complaint calls for SNBL USA, the company that imported the animals, to be “severely punished” under the U.S. Animal Welfare Act for its failure to treat the ailing animals before transporting them by truck to two separate facilities, including one that was 3,800 km away.

According to an article posted on The Seattle Times website Monday, the 840 macaques had arrived from Phnom Penh by air in Houston, Texas, alive but in poor condition and were then moved into trucks for trips up to three days in length.

“SNBL records say that when the shipment of 840 macaques arrived in Houston on Oct. 1, 2013, company staff noted the animals were ‘very thirsty and thin,’” The Seattle Times article reads. “Of those animals, five died in transit and an additional 20 died or were euthanized shortly after arrival.”

Michael Budkie, executive director of SAEN, said by email that the remaining Cambodian macaques, many of which may have also been seriously emaciated, were unaccounted for. “Unfortunately we don’t have any information on where the surviving primates went after reaching SNBL in Washington,” he said.

SNBL USA is one of 27 global subsidiaries of the Tokyo-based Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories conglomerate. The company, which also has offices in Phnom Penh’s Canadia Tower, estimates its revenue to be $162.7 million this year, according to Reuters.

A person who answered the phone at Shin Nippon’s Cambodian office Wednesday said there was no one at the company currently able to comment on the issue.

According to the South Carolina-based International Primate Protection League, 2,340 monkeys imported to the U.S. last year for medical testing came from Cambodian farms, the third largest source of monkeys destined for the U.S.

Of the 2,340, the monkey rights group says, 1,820 were exported by the Tian Hu Cambodia Animal Breeding Research Center, which is listed in company documents online as a “consolidated subsidiary” of Shin Nippon.

Thun Sarath, deputy director of planning and statistics at the Ministry of Agriculture, said he was unaware of the alleged mistreatment of the many macaques shipped to the U.S. last year, but would investigate the claims.

“We will inform the authorities and the authorities will go there and check,” he said, referring to SNBL’s facilities in Cambodia. “If they don’t comply, we will warn them once and then twice, and the third time, we will take their license.”

Mr. Sarath referred further questions to Keo Omaliss, deputy director of the Agriculture Ministry’s wildlife and biodiversity department, who declined to comment.

Cheng Kimsun, administrative chief of forestry at the ministry, said there are five macaque farms in Kompong Cham, Pursat, Kandal and Kompong Thom provinces, all operating in accordance with animal welfare laws.

“Everything is done in compliance with the law, not only our national laws but also international laws,” Mr. Kimsun said. Asked about the exported macaques, Mr. Kimsun also referred questions to Mr. Omaliss.

A written request for comment from SNBL USA went unanswered Wednesday. However, a letter sent from SNBL USA president Thomas Beck to U.S. health officials in October acknowledges that the macaques arrived in the U.S. in a weakened state but “were provided water and biscuits” prior to their overland journey.

Mr. Beck’s letter says that SNBL intends to enact a number of changes to ensure imported monkeys fare better during transport, including flying the animals to U.S. airports closer to SNBL facilities and feeding them fruit and Gatorade every eight hours.

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