Monkey business, secret labs, & the French Canadian connection
MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada––The liquid monkey business flowing across the 3,987-mile U.S./Canadian border these days is literally about liquid monkey parts: blood, guts, spinal fluid, and other internal organs pureed in a blender for use in biomedical research.
A century ago, from the introduction of Prohibition with the 1919 passage of the Volstead Act to the end of it in 1933 with the passage of the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution, the transborder “monkey business” was all about bootlegged alcohol, and was mostly controlled by gangsters.
The only alcohol involved today is used to preserve specimens. The major player in the traffic appears to be Charles River Laboratories.
Yes, that Charles River Laboratories
Yes, the same Charles River Laboratories that as of March 2023 was holding 1,200 wild-caught long-tailed macaques in a Houston warehouse.
Illegally imported from Cambodia, the Houston macaques were therefore not introduced into U.S. laboratories, as according to the alleged Charles River Laboratories plan, after the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida on November 16, 2022 indicted primate supplier James Man Sang Lau, 64, five of his employees, and two Cambodian government officials for “smuggling and conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act.”
The Lacey Act of 1900, the oldest U.S. wildlife protection law still on the books, prohibits interstate traffic in illegally obtained wildlife or wildlife parts.
The French Connection
This is where the French Connection comes in, or more precisely, the Charles River Laboratories connection through French-speaking Quebec, the same province bordering on four U.S. states that ran the most booze into the U.S. back when “monkey business” was just a metaphor.
The Quebec connection came to light, Christopher Nardi of the Toronto-based National Post reported on February 24, 2021, after “In 2020, the Canadian government approved the import of 1,056 macaca fascicularis,” also known as crab-eating macaques and long-tailed macaques, “by private interests from Cambodia for ‘scientific and research’ use, a first since at least 2016 according to documents obtained by the National Post through an access to information request.
“Documents also show,” Nardi wrote, “that at least a portion—if not all—of those macaques were brought to Quebec on behalf of Charles River Laboratories, a major U.S.-based importer of non-human primates used for breeding and scientific testing that has multiple sites throughout the province.
Canadian government approved the traffic
“According to documents from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency,” Nardi continued, “the government has approved the import of roughly 2,500 non-human primates annually from the U.S. for research and testing purposes in the last five years.
“But 2020 marked the first year that an additional number of primates were imported from Cambodia, which has regularly been the target of critiques by animal protection organizations for alleged mistreatment of the animals.
“Neither the Canadian government nor Charles River Laboratories,” Nardi concluded, “responded to repeated questions about the type of research the macaques were going to be used for and who had purchased them.”
“U.S. was just a layover”
Cambodian journalist Anton L. Delgado shed light on these matters in a May 8, 2023 exposé for Mekong Eye, a project of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network, spotlighting the transactions leading to the indictments of James Man Sang Lau and his associates.
“The U.S. imported the highest number of live macaques from Cambodia during each of the years corruption is alleged,” Delgado wrote, “totaling nearly 70,000 monkeys, according to trade data. As of now, it is unclear how many may have been taken from the wild, but prosecutors have hinted at thousands.
“For an unknowable number of these potentially trafficked animals, or at least bits and pieces of them, the U.S. was just a layover,” Delgado explained. “That’s because labs there routinely dissect Cambodian macaques to re-export hundreds of shipments of dismembered body parts to Canada and across Europe.
Laundering poached macaques
“This could magnify the potential illegality within the primate trade,” Delgado observed, “since one monkey is likely sliced and diced into multiple types of specimen, from blood to brains.
“Knowingly or not, the labs re-exporting these specimens could be further laundering macaques poached from the wild in Cambodia,” Delgado suggested.
The global traffic in nonhuman primates used for biomedical research, “worth an estimated $1.25 billion,” Delgado explained, “is overseen by a United Nations trade convention,” the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES for short, “which legalizes the commerce through a permit system, animal welfare regulations, breeding requirements and other rules. But the nearly 50-year-old system is infamous for legal loopholes and data deficiencies,” Delgado charged, and perhaps understated.
Cambodia sent 21,000 macaques to U.S. labs
Even as the global trade in nonhuman primates for biomedical research boomed during the rush to develop vaccines for COVID-19 in 2020 and subsequently, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, also a project of the United Nations, in July 2022 uplisted macaca fascicularis from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’ on the Red List of Threatened Species, citing “biological use” among the major threats to the survival of the species.
Cambodia, exporting macaques to the U.S. since 2005 from “monkey farms” suspected of doing more laundering of wild-caught macaques as “captive bred” than actual breeding “cornered the market during the pandemic,” Delgado wrote.
“Cambodia traded more than 33,000 live macaques in 2020,” said Delgado, “more than half of the recorded global macaque trade that year. Nearly seven in 10 of those monkeys landed in the U.S.”
James Man Sang Lau’s company, Vanny Bio Research, “exported more than 40,700 live macaques to the U.S. from 2020 to 2022, according to data published by the head of Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries,” Delgado reported.
This, Delgado assessed, “deepened pre-existing doubts about Cambodia’s macaque exports. It also raised new ones about the role U.S. labs may be playing in re-laundering allegedly wild-caught animals through specimen exports.
“The prevalence and profit of the live trade often overshadows the specimen market, which lengthens the supply chain for Cambodian monkeys,” explained Delgado.
“In order to get specimens, you have to have the live animal”
Explained Action for Primates founder Nedim Buyukmihci, who formerly headed the Born Free Primate Sanctuary in Dilley, Texas, and is an emeritus professor of veterinary medicine at the University of California, Davis campus, “There is really no difference between the two trades. In order to get specimens, you have to have the live animal somewhere. You’re not growing it in a test tube. You have the same impact, potentially, as in the live trade.”
But at that point the CITES tracking data no longer lists individual animals, nor specific body parts in most transactions. The macaques are reduced to liquid and solid measurements.
“Canada brought in more than 26,500 milliliters of Cambodian-origin macaque specimens”
Summarized Delgado, “According to CITES trade data, Italy imported nearly 41,000 specimens in two massive shipments,” the most of any nation, “in 2020 and 2021. No units of measurement were noted.”
The United Kingdom “most frequently imported specimens, with nearly 20 shipments from 2018 to 2021,” Delgado said.
“Canada brought in more than 26,500 milliliters of Cambodian-origin macaque specimens from 2017 to 2019, a larger volume than any other country trading with the U.S.,” along with “more than 2,000 live macaques [brought] directly from Cambodia,” and 159 live macaques from the U.S. who originally came from Cambodia.”
“An urgent letter”
Buyukmihci, at the present moment, “has joined with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [PETA] to urge Canada to halt primate imports,” he said in a June 6, 2023 media release. “An urgent letter has been sent to the Canadian Wildlife Service, Health Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, informing them that hundreds of long-tailed macaques are being imported to Canada from Cambodia for use in laboratories and that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has suspended such imports to the U.S., following its federal monkey smuggling investigation and indictments.
“According to international trade data,” Buyukmihci said, “Canada imported monkeys worth $1.23 million from Cambodia after Cambodian government officials were indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice in November 2022 for alleged smuggling.
“Hundreds of monkeys have arrived in Montréal”
“In February 2023,” Buyukmihci continued, “major importer Charles River Laboratories announced that it was suspending imports from Cambodia into the U.S.
“The web site of the Canadian government has not been updated on this matter since March,” Buyukmihci finished, “but insiders have told Action for Primates and PETA that hundreds of monkeys have arrived in Montréal in the past 30 days, transported by Hi Fly Malta and Bluebird Nordic.”
If the monkeys were booze or smack
Had the Cambodian macaques likely to soon be liquified been liquor circa 1930, Eliot Ness and the Untouchables might have intercepted the deal.
Had the Quebec connection been the French Connection heroin traffic circa 1970, New York City police detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso, also known as “Popeye” Doyle and “Cloudy” Russo, might have been on the case.
But this is 2023. Charles River Laboratories, of $10.2 billion net worth, has more money and clout than every Prohibition-era rum-runner combined, and every French heroin trafficker circa 1970, for that matter.
Buyukmihci, who briefly withheld information from ANIMALS 24-7 because he was “working on an exclusive” with major mass media, was disappointed when “the news outlet decided not to continue with the issue,” he told Beth Clifton of ANIMALS 24-7.
Thus if anything happens now on behalf of the macaques who might soon be at the business end of a Charles River Laboratories blender, it may be because ANIMALS 24-7 readers, who actually give a damn, read the news and raised hell.