Smugglers, Substandard Facilities Kill Monkeys

Smugglers, Substandard Facilities Kill MonkeysSmugglers, Substandard Facilities Kill Monkeys

Rhesus monkeys have become the latest casualty of the growing demand in Iran for exotic pets.

Also known as rhesus macaques, these Old World monkeys are smuggled into the country by the hundreds while young every year, and kept in captivity in the worst possible conditions by individuals who do not have the slightest idea how to raise the animal — but are eager to make a quick buck.

Speaking to Mehr News Agency, Iman Memarian, senior veterinarian at the Pardisan Wildlife Clinic in northwestern Tehran, said unofficial estimates put the number of smuggled monkeys at 300 per year, “but it’s probably more than that.”

He said the majority of the smuggled macaques die before they become adults due to mishandling. Upon discovery, these monkeys are taken to the clinic’s rehabilitation center, which is not officially recognized by the Department of Environment.

“Therefore, we lack the budget to care for these animals, and can’t transfer them to zoos because we don’t have a single zoo in Iran that meets international standards,” Memarian said.

Rhesus monkeys are not naturally found in Iran, but being resilient, they can live virtually anywhere, and that is why they cannot be released into the wild because they are considered an invasive species.

An invasive animal species is one which is not native to the ecosystem in question and has the ability to spread quickly and aggressively, which may push the region’s native animals to extinction.

“Basically, the only animal in Iran that can pose a threat to these monkeys is the Persian leopard, and even a predator like that knows better than to approach a rhesus monkey when it is in a group — as is usually the case,” he noted.

Memarian said the DOE has dismissed calls for the establishment of standard rehabilitation center and refuses to implement plans proposed by the clinic to set up such a facility.

  Two Options

With no rehab centers to care for the animals, lack of standard zoos and the dangers posed to Iran’s biodiversity if the monkeys are set free in the wild, the clinic is only left with two options.

“We either send them to research labs, or — if the labs reject them — we euthanize the animals,” Memarian said. “Putting the monkey down is not our first choice, but it’s usually our only choice.”

As expected, animal rights advocates are far from happy and have asked officials to consider alternative solutions, such as returning the monkeys to their home country, and neutering (or spaying) the animals and leave them in the care of interested and trained individuals.

However, none of the proposed options are feasible, according to Memarian.

“Countries where the animals are smuggled from normally don’t accept them back, because they were illegally taken. Furthermore, they’re already having a hard time controlling these animals as it is, so they don’t want to makes things harder,” he said.

Macaques are group animals and form colonies, but when a colony is formed, they are unlikely to accept new members and are prone to attacking and killing a monkey they consider an outsider.

“So even if we manage to send the macaques back home, nothing much would change for the ill-fated creatures.”

As to why they are not left in the care of trained professionals eager to look after them, Memarian said macaques are known carriers of highly infectious diseases, such as ebola and herpes B virus.

“So unless we have a fully equipped standard facility to take care of these monkeys, we cannot leave them in anyone’s care,” he said.

Spread from Southeast to Central Asia, rhesus monkeys are found in large numbers in southern China, Thailand, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where officials believe the monkeys are smuggled from.