The long-tailed macaques

Cage conditions in the laboratory

In early June 2003, a professor from the medical school of a Parisian university contacted us for help in finding new homes for about a dozen macaques out of a group of 36. Why only 12 of the 36? Probably because they were the oldest. The other younger monkeys had been set aside for another experimental research laboratory.
After much discussion and a lot of inexplicable red-tape, a decision was made to collect them on 27 June. Thus we arrived at about 10 in the morning in the grounds of the medical school which seemed to be as closely guarded as a prison. The monkeys’ lab animal technician asked us to be quick and discreet. We loaded our transport containers onto a freight lift which took us up to the 5th floor. We soon came into a room lined with cages about 4 feet (120cm) high and less than 3 feet by 3 feet in floor area. There was mainly only one monkey per cage. Given the number of cages we were lead to believe that this facility houses between 60 and 100 monkeys when at full capacity. As I began to wonder how to get them into the transport containers, the animal technician explained that they had been trained to go willingly into weighing cages less than half that size. Indeed, in less than half an hour all twelve monkeys were in their crates and ready for transport, so we removed them as quickly as possible from the medical school while our thoughts remained with those we had left behind. An animal protection association then began lobbying for negotiations to have them entrusted to us.

Back at the Refuge, we released the monkeys into their new indoor space which opens freely onto a large outdoor enclosure which is over 6 yards high and about 10 yards by 10 on the ground, providing a stimulating habitat with dead trees and branches to climb on. The monkeys huddled together silently in a corner - it was a pitiful sight, and we could hardly bear to watch. The oldest of them were born in captivity and were 25 years old – they had only ever lived in a very confined space. They had never seen trees or birds, never felt the wind or the warmth of the sun on their skin. In their cages they could only take two steps before coming to rest against the wire netting. In this larger space they would take two steps and then fall to the ground, stunned that there was nothing to hold them upright. It was several days before they began grooming and we heard the first sounds of communication, about ten days before one of them first ventured onto a branch. The remaining 24 monkeys were signed over to our care on 10 July, and they had no major difficulty in adapting to life in a group. This fact again refutes the theory that laboratory animals cannot readapt to life beyond a cage. We would however like to stress that, to the best of our knowledge, this is the first time a scientist has wanted laboratory animals to have a happy and peaceful retirement.
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