As the controversy continues to swell, the government has just promised to gradually eliminate the trade in the export of long-tailed macaques to foreign laboratories. However, this will not interrupt breeding in Mauritius, because foreign laboratories will be able to set up locally and use these monkeys for their needs within the framework of the “biotechnology hub”.

“The government's position is to gradually phase out exports. » This was declared by Zouberr Joomaye, director of the Mauritius Institute of Biotechnology Ltd and Senior Advisor to the Prime Minister's office, on the evening of Friday February 23, 2024, during the program “Au coeur de l'info” presented by Nawaz Noorbux and Jugdish Joypaul.
However, he clarified that the authorities have not set a deadline for this “phasing-out”. “We need to think about whether Mauritius has a place for biotechnology. A budget has been allocated to help companies start their activities in order to produce vaccines in Mauritius,” explained Zouberr Joomaye.
However, he stressed that the country's laws do not allow what can be done in terms of scientific research in America and the United States. “Perhaps there will be opportunities for this breeding sector to position itself with the laboratories that will come here,” he added.
Will the government grant new operating permits? “It’s unlikely in the context we find ourselves in, but I can’t make a commitment,” replied Zouberr Joomaye.

The Minister of Agro-industry, Mahen Seeruttun, agreed: “The trend in the world is to no longer do experiments on primates wherever possible. Our vision is to end exports gradually and in phases, but it must be done in a thoughtful manner. »
The minister, who spoke by telephone during the program, recalled that monkeys are not endemic to Mauritius. “They are considered an invasive species that causes a lot of damage, particularly to our biodiversity,” he said.

He cited a study done in 2017 showing that there are between 40,000 and 60,000 monkeys in Mauritius. “We need to do things in a thoughtful and structured way. We also need to think about the companies and employees in this sector. There needs to be a balance so that other species of animals and plants are not endangered. We must be careful not to disrupt our ecosystem by ending it. »

Present on the Radio Plus set on Friday, the MP for the Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM), Joanna Bérenger, indicated that she found the government inconsistent in its approach. Referring to Hammerhead International's file for obtaining an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment; Editor's note) permit, she wonders how the Ministry of the Environment can consider this request for a project which does not have land.

Rose-Belle Sugar Estate announced around ten days ago that Hammerhead International did not have a valid lease for a farm project aimed at exporting 12,000 monkeys per year. Mahen Seeruttun affirms that granting an operating permit to this company “does not arise”.

Bringing the subject to a political level, Zouberr Joomaye pointed out that the breeding of monkeys for export to scientific laboratories has existed since 1988 in Mauritius. “It is a sector of activity that no government has said it was going to stop and that several governments have favored the development of this activity. If we want medicine to advance, we must carry out clinical trials. When testing new drugs, they must be tested first on laboratory animals before humans. But scientists must ensure that this is done under legal conditions and as acceptable as possible,” he explained.

If Joanna Bérenger does not advocate an immediate and sudden cessation of all commercial monkey breeding, she nevertheless pleaded for “stricter regulations and more investment in alternatives that no longer require experiments on monkeys”. She stressed the need to deploy “more resources to enforce the law”.

A most lucrative business

Six large operators share a market worth around Rs 4 billion in Mauritius with the export of around 12,000 long-tailed macaques annually. The industry employs more than 6,300 people directly and indirectly. Below are the main operators, their turnover and profits (for the latest financial year available to the Registrar of Associations).

Noveprim Ltd
Turnover (2020): Rs 715,472,000
Profits (2020): Rs 438,058,000
Bioculture Ltd
Turnover (2020): Rs 699,082,845
Profits (2020): Rs 346,526,216
Les Campêches Ltée
Turnover (2022-23): Rs 196,146,860
Profits (2022-23): Rs 100,198,351
Le Tamarinier Ltd
Turnover (2022): Rs 220,420,212
Profits (2022): Rs 147,826,619
Cynologics Ltd
Turnover (2022): Rs 194,164,677
Profits (2022): Rs 104,993,761
Biosphere Trading Ltd
Turnover (2022): 0
Losses (2022): Rs 34,050,250

Breeders defend their ethical commitment

While some speak of exploitation and mistreatment of animals as well as a lucrative business, companies promoting monkey breeding farms in Mauritius claim, for their part, to contribute to medical research with a view to saving human lives through the world. The Cyno Breeders Association (CBA), which brings together the main promoters of the sector, takes stock of the situation.

“Our members practice an open door policy and full transparency with public authorities, including the National Parks and Conservation Service (NPCS) and the Livestock and Veterinary Division (LVD),” the CBA said in a statement. She specifies that these institutions regularly carry out inspections on the various sites of CBA members in order to ensure strict compliance with the provisions of the Native Terrestrial Biodiversity and National Parks Act as well as the Animal Welfare Act.

While respecting local laws, the CBA also adheres to the rigorous standards of the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC). According to the press release, this globally renowned auditing and accreditation body promotes laboratory animal welfare and high-quality research. The CBA also claims that its members have adopted standards higher than those required by AAALAC in order to ensure animal welfare.

The association is convinced that “primates remain an essential link in the advancement of cutting-edge medicine, particularly in terms of gene therapy and immunotherapy”. According to her, local primates have contributed directly to the creation of drugs for the treatment of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, cancer, malaria, recently COVID-19 and chikungunya, as well as in the treatment of other diseases.

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