Australia’s secret primate experiments.

Primate testing is still happening in Australia today – read on to learn more about this cruel industry, and the humane alternatives.

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated December 8, 2021

Societal acceptance of animal experimentation has largely been based on the assumption that these tests, as distressing and ethically distasteful as they may be, will ultimately benefit humans. But do they?

In 1963, when researchers sawed open the heads of chimpanzees and attached transmitters to their brains to control their impulses, the general public didn’t bat an eye — because no one knew. But 50 years and numerous exposés later, the world has reeled at revelations of the suffering of animals used as test subjects. Yet researchers are still using and killing primates — and they’re doing it right here, in our own backyard.

The sheer scale of animal experimentation in Australia would shock most people. In 2018 it was estimated to be over ten million animals, hundreds of them non-human primates, who were subjected to experiments in the name of science.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

caged macaque monkeys from Laboratory

In one notable Melbourne experiment in 2013, macaque monkeys had their skulls drilled into, and electrodes inserted into their brains — not to discover a cure for a fatal disease, but instead to measure their attention spans. To add insult to fatal injury, the results of the test cannot be directly applied to humans because, for all our similarities to non-human primates, our brains — specifically our visual processing centres — are fundamentally different. Such is the conflict at the very heart of animal experimentation.

Ask the experimenters why they experiment on animals and the answer is: 'Because animals are like us.' Ask the experimenters why it is morally okay to experiment on animals, and the answer is: 'Because the animals are not like us.' Animal experimentation rests on a logical contradiction.
Prof. Charles R. Magel

Animal pain vs. societal gain

For an experiment to pass an ‘ethics test’, researchers must prove that the potential benefits to humans outweigh the impact on the animals involved.

“A judgement as to whether a proposed use of animals is ethically acceptable … must balance whether the potential effects on the wellbeing of the animals involved is justified by the potential benefits.” — The Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes

Despite this clear governing principle, it’s questionable whether many invasive and ultimately lethal experiments have directly benefited human health and development.

Non-human primates: the hidden victims

When a baby gorilla is born in a zoo in Victoria it makes news headlines — and upon the death of a captive gorilla, the community grieves. When a chimpanzee at the zoo fell ill she was given all the tender care of a human patient — and yet, every day in institutions across the country, hundreds of their primate cousins are hidden away to be used in cruel experiments.

There are three primate breeding facilities in Australia and at least 11 universities and institutions that conduct primate experiments — involving macaque monkeys, marmosets and baboons. A veil of secrecy hides the suffering of the animals within from public scrutiny.

Importing cruelty: buying the ‘products’ of primate poaching

In addition to the three ‘home-grown’ primate breeding facilities, between 2000 and 2009 Australia imported some 640 macaques from Indonesia for research purposes. Many breeds of this species are considered critically endangered due, in most part, to habitat destruction and illegal poaching. Help spare macaques being captured and sold for cruel experiments here.

While Australia has a policy against importing wild-caught animals, a lack of accountability throughout the importation process makes the policy almost impossible to enforce.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A bulldozer going through Australian forest, carnage on tress can be seen, so many forest trees are down

The true cost of animal experimentation

Animal researchers and breeding institutions in Australia receive millions of taxpayer dollars every year in grants that support animal tests. Hundreds of thousands of animals are used, and many of them are destroyed, for the purposes of medical, pharmacological and toxicity testing — despite the fact that experimentation on animals has consistently been found to be poorly predictive of similar tests and treatments in humans.

Even primates, our closest living relatives, have significant genetic differences that can make applying the results of their tests to human patients ineffective at best — and lethal at worst. In fact, the argument can be made that in many cases animal experimentation delays human medical progress.

Animal-free alternatives: no monkey business

Testing on animals is not only unethical — it’s unnecessary. Ultimately, it’s animals who are paying the high price for humanity’s failure to utilise progressive, and readily available, animal-free tools for scientific and medical experimentation.

We live in a truly remarkable age — where 3D printers can restore mobility and dignity to people (and animals!) who have lost their limbs, and research groups are well on their way to being able to ‘custom make‘ body parts and organs — and it is more clear than ever before that animal experimentation is an ethical embarrassment that belongs in the past.

Humane Research Australia has a wealth of information detailing alternatives to animal testing — cruelty-free options that showcase human ingenuity, and compassion, at their best.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A marmoset in the zoo

Monkey see, monkey do — humans too!

In the immortal words of David Attenborough, in the BBC documentary Natural World: Clever Monkeys, non-human primates have shown us, time and time again, that they share our sense of society and adventure, family and compassion, life, death — and freedom.

At the very least these intelligent and sophisticated animals deserve our respect and kindness — not a life of fear and suffering in a cage. After all…

What makes us human may not be uniquely human after all.
David Attenborough

You can help free animals from labs!

  • Write an email or letter to your MP urging them to end the importation of animals for use in scientific research and to ban primate experiments.
  • Help spare wild and endangered monkeys in Indonesia from being captured and sent around the world for cruel experiments.
  • Did you know that every year millions of animals are also subjected to painful tests in the production of cosmetics? While primates aren’t known to be used for cosmetic testing, rabbits most certainly are, so you can help take the bunny cruelty out of beauty by always choosing cruelty-free.
  • Support Humane Research Australia’s work to Ban Primate Experiments — head to their website for more information on how to help free animals from cruel and unnecessary tests.

Many thanks to Humane Research Australia for sharing their research and information, and for their tireless work to end animal experimentation.