Heartbreaking reality of ‘breakout baboons’
THE sight of three baboons running around a Sydney hospital yesterday was an internet meme dream but behind the hilarity is a tragic reality for the baboons who - along with hundreds of others - face cruel and often painful experiments.
Authorities in charge of the baboons did their best to paint a picture that the primates live in an idyllic colony west of Sydney but the truth is these baboons are locked away in research and breeding facilities where practices are shrouded in secrecy.
Few people are aware that primates are used in research in Australia, yet 272 primates were used in invasive experiments in 2017 (the latest available statistics).
These include baboons, marmosets and macaques.
Baboons are purpose-bred at a breeding facility in Wallacia, NSW while marmosets and macaques are bred in Gippsland Victoria.
The fate of other primates bred for animal testing in similar 'idyllic colonies' include a macaque found in a barrel outside dead in a pool of blood, a marmoset found listless and bleeding from her bowel, a macaque who died in her cage after being found unable to move and another marmoset found vomiting clear foamy liquid who died 30 minutes later.
The primates are bred for medical researchers who use them to investigate illnesses including complicated diabetes, kidney disorders, reproductive conditions and heart disease.
Baboons have been used to test radioactive substances and pregnancy hypertension, subjected to preeclampsia experiments and had shoulder tendons cut to investigate the healing process - all in Australia and funded by taxpayers.
It is likely the fate for the three escapees is far from the paradise portrayed.
Primates are subjected to cruel and painful experiments using practices that could be replaced by alternative, human-relevant methods of research, that do not require animals, such as using human tissue samples or adult stem cells.
The plight of the three baboons has shed a light on Australia's heinous animal testing industry where in 2017 close to three million sentient animals were used in invasive animal research, including 272 primates, 378 dogs and 2587 cats.
These figures are a conservative estimate given there is no system of national reporting on animal research, just one indication of the secrecy that prevails.
This is not a question of a 'necessary evil' and it is time for a reframing of the debate.
Aside from the clear ethical dilemma of using animals with high cognitive abilities and well developed social structures as mere 'tools for research', the use of primates has been found to be poorly predictive of human outcomes and their use has proven to be ineffective at providing substantial contributions to biomedical research.
It is time for grater transparency, and an investment in human-relevant research, to the benefit of animals and humans.
To sign the petition to ban primate experiments, please click here.
- Helen Marston is the CEO of Humane Research Australia