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Our Complicity: Israel's Importing,
Breeding, and Exporting of Primates


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Primate Experiment
in Jerusalem

Primates

Recent Examples
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Long-tailed macaques. Credit: Jim & Darlene

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In early 1991, Israel's first and only primate breeding facility was established in Moshav Mazor, in central Israel. The farm breeds long-tailed macaque monkeys and sells them for experiments, mainly in the UK, but also in Israel and in other countries. Currently, the farm, known as Mazor Farm, or BFC, holds more than 1,000 monkeys and exports about 300 subjects to the UK every year.

 

Several Court cases initiated by BFC led to disclosure of much information about this company. The owners of BFC are three Israelis (Mr. Ze'ev Brin, Mr. Eli Holtzman and municipal veterinarian Dr. Moshe Bushmitz) and an Australian, Mr. Owen Griffiths. The latter is a co-founder and co-owner of Bioculture Mauritius, a large supplier of monkeys for US and UK laboratories. Bioculture sells both wild-caught and farmed long-tailed macaques for experiments. Monkeys are normally caught in Mauritius with nets, a device considered inhumane and banned by the Israeli Wildlife Protection Law of 1955.

 

Based on official EU statistics, all the monkeys that BFC exported to the UK in the years 1996 through 2000 were designated first-generation, that is, monkeys born in captivity to parents caught in the wild. In other words, BFC is heavily involved in the cruel capture of monkeys in the wild, since most or all of its breeding stock is wild-caught. Furthermore, at least two experts who visited the farm criticized the husbandry conditions there. One of the experts, a biologist who served for several years as the Head of the Zoological Garden in Tel Aviv University, noted that the monkeys receive their last meal before noon, and remain without food for about 18 hours every day. He also emphasized that the fact that the monkeys at the farm are afraid of humans indicates problematic husbandry.

 

Another controversial issue is the age at which monkeys are weaned on the farm. In nature, long-tailed macaque males are separated from their mothers at the age of 3 or 4, and females never leave their mothers. In Mazor, the monkeys were forcefully separated from their mothers at the age of only 6 months in violation of the guidelines of the International Primatological Society that mandates separation not before the age of 12-18 months and only public outcry initiated by animal welfare groups forced the farm owners to increase the age of separation to about 12 months. In 2000, the official then in in charge of enforcing Israel's Animal Protection Law, Dr. Hagay Almagor, concluded that weaning at an age below 12 months, as practiced in the Mazor farm for years, probably constitutes "animal torture."

 

And yet, BFC still exists and still exports hundreds of monkeys for experiments each year. At the price of 1,500 to 2,000 dollars per monkey (6,750 to 9,000 shekels, at 1 US$ = 4.5 NIS), considerable economic interests are at stake. El Al, the national airline, is actively involved in the trade, as all the monkeys exported by BFC are shipped by El Al cargo — despite strong public opposition within Israel.

 

In January 2003, former Minister of the Environment, MK Tzachi Hanegbi, asked the Nature and Parks Authority, the agency responsible for authorizing wildlife imports and exports, to deny export licenses for the farm. However, in September 2003, the next Minister of the Environment, MK Yehudith Naot, decided to permit BFC to continue to export monkeys for experimentation and to replenish its breeding stock by importing new monkeys from Mauritius, presumably wild-caught.

 

UPDATE 2013: On 6 January 2013, Israel's government announced that it would ban the import and export of monkeys to and from Mazor Farm (BFC) and, in addition, would limit Mazor Farm's activities to medical research within Israel only. This ban will take effect gradually over two years.

 

UPDATE 2010: On 2 September 2010, El Al Airlines announced that it had changed its policy and would no longer transport primates, or any other animals, for experiments abroad. It subsequently reversed this position. Then on 18 June 2012, under considerable pressure from animal activists, El Al stated that it will no longer transport any monkeys for experimentation. An El Al spokesperson wrote: "El Al will not fly monkeys meant to be used for experiments. Period." On 16 July 2012, the current Minister of Environmental Protection, who oversees the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA), refused Mazor Farm permission to transport primates to a vivisection laboratory in Texas. This lab is Mazor Farm's last client outside of Israel, so it is possible that the facility will finally shut down.

 

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