I am writing to you concerning a recent article published on the Africa Review. The article was titled: "End lucrative monkey business, Mauritius urged" and was dated March 20, 2012.
Accuracy in press reporting is vital if the media's impact is to be substantial, meaningful and prolonged rather than purely sensationalist. While I accept that the tone of this article is far from that of much tabloid sensationalism it does contain factual errors that undermine its value and the good name of Africa Review.
The issue of the supply of animals for use in programmes of research is highly emotive, a fact that pressure groups play on and which they use to gain media attention. The reality of the case of the supply of long-tailed macaques from Mauritius is no less complex: many people instinctively dislike the thought that animals are used in biomedical research programmes but do not hesitate to turn to medical treatments for themselves or their family.
These treatments, including drugs and surgical techniques, have not appeared out of thin air and are developed and safety-tested using animal models to replicate human diseases, conditions and biological processes. Without these treatments many of your readers would not be alive to read Africa Review.
So, if the use of animals in research is important and well-justified what is the specific case relating to Mauritius? Of course given the case that can be made for the use of animals in well-justified, well-regulated research, it is vital to stress that the treatment of the animals must not only be humane but must in fact include the very highest standard of animal welfare - not just because it is ethically correct but because stressed animals make poor research subjects.
There is very little that I have seen of BUAV's evidence that demonstrates any significant cruelty in the contemporary practices of breeders in Mauritius that implement evidence-based best practice in monkey housing and husbandry.
The population of long-tailed macaques in Mauritius was introduced hundreds of years ago by European sailors. The natural range of this species is in South East Asia and does not include Mauritius. As an introduced species that has considerable impact on local wildlife and agricultural crops (e.g. sugar cane) this monkey is classified (as the article notes) as a pest in Mauritius. Like many countries in Africa Mauritius has a large number of endemic species - species that are found no where else.
For decades Mauritius has battled hard, and with considerable success, to save its endemic and native wildlife. Major threats include habitat loss due to development and, in many cases, the substantial impact of introduced 'pest' species.
The monkeys, along with rats, cats and mongooses due to their predation of eggs and nestlings have been implicated in the near extinction of endemic birds in Mauritius such as the Pink Pidgeon, Mauritian Kestrel and Echo Parakeet. Far from the removal of monkeys from the wild in Mauritius being a conservation problem - it is in fact a conservation tool, some would even say a conservation necessity.
BUAV, is an advocacy group whose goal is to end the use of animals in research - it is not "An international animal conservation group" as quoted in the article and has no expertise to be commenting on conservation issues.
Without the continued supply of these monkeys from Mauritius for research and thereby a control of their introduced population not only will conservation in Mauritius suffer, but there will will also be an direct impact on medical progress. Without this progress where do BUAV and their supporters think that improved preventative vaccines, treatments and cures for global killers such as malaria, HIV and tuberculosis will come from?
Perhaps given the medical progress and conservation benefits associated with this sector in Mauritius the "luke-warm" reception that BUAV received from the Mauritian Government is understandable. I hope that you will remind your reporters about the importance of checking the facts of a story before submitting articles.
--Dr Honess, BSc PhD, is a Primate Behaviour and Welfare Consultant