Nepali Times
Headline
Monkey business

DEWAN RAI


PICS: KIRAN PANDAY

Following protests by animal rights activists, the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources this week directed the government to ban the export of Nepali monkeys for bio-medical research, but there are still loopholes that could allow the trade.

The Nepal Biodiversity Research Society, which has a breeding centre in Lele, asked for permission in November to export a first lot of 25 offspring of captive monkeys to a lab in San Antonio in Texas.

But animal rights activists filed a public interest litigation suit in the Supreme Court. The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) clarified it hadn't issued any permits for export. The parliamentary committee then summoned the department's Shyam Bajimaya and instructed him to stop any planned shipment of lab monkeys to the US.

But there are still provisions in the law to allow the export of offspring of captive monkeys for research if there is a permit. Bajimaya told Nepali Times: "We will have to wait for the court verdict to remove the ambiguities."

Rhesus monkeys are listed as almost endangered in the CITES Appendix II and Nepal is a signatory to the treaty. "The offspring being sent should be scientifically proven to be second generation seed monkeys through DNA analysis," says Ravi Aryal, wildlife expert and member of the parliamentary committee.

Manoj Gautam of Roots and Shoots, which sued the government, suspects the US foundation is importing the monkeys for bio-terrorism research. "There are now alternatives to the use of primates in labs," he says, "there is no need to kill monkeys." The Texas-based Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Resarch has a Biosafety Level 4 lab, where bio-warfare agents such as Lassa fever, Anthrax, Ebola and smallpox are tested.

Primatologist Mukesh Chalise, who runs another breeding centre in Lele, denies there is anything sinister. "The monkeys are for tests which is impossible to conduct on human beings. If you are a humanist you have to help find cures for diseases," he argues.

NBRS got a government license in 2004 and received a $2.8 million grant from the Maryland-based National Institute of Health to set up a rhesus monkey breeding centre in Nepal to supply lab monkeys for research. The Society then bought 200 seed monkeys from the government for Rs 5 million in 2005 and there are now 100 offspring of which it wanted to export 25.

Says animal rights activist Pramoda Shah: "This is a deeply moral issue. Rhesus are the closest animals to humans, someone has to speak out for them."



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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