The Satya Interview:
Protecting Primates Internationally
McGreal, Ph.D. is chairwoman of the International Primate
Protection League, which works with international groups
to protect primates in the wild and to stop illegal smuggling
of primates worldwide.
Q: How did you first get involved in animal advocacy?
A. I went to live in Thailand and when I went to the airport
to pick up my air cargo, I saw a shipment of baby monkeys bound
for New York. They were white babies; later I learned they were
stumptail macaques. The babies looked so helpless and, rightly
or wrongly, I thought they were appealing to me for help. Later
I seemed to run across primates everywhere: people on the same
soi (small street) with pet gibbons, primates for sale in markets,
etc. So in 1973, I founded IPPL.
Q: What first drew you to non-human primates?
A: It was exposure to their problems by living in
Thailand. By studying them, and learning about their rarity
and the suffering inflicted on them by humans, I got involved
with non-human primates.
Q: Why the international focus of your organization?
A: Because suffering is not confined to animals living
within U.S. borders. And we have always believed in stopping
the primate trade at its source because, once the monkeys
get here, it is next to impossible to secure decent treatment.
Our biggest accomplishments were getting India to ban monkey
exports (1977), the Bangladesh ban (1979), and working to
maintain these bans. The smuggling of infant primates always
involves international transactions. In addition, money spent
overseas helping rescue centers and educating people is great
value for a group's money.
Q: What happened in India and Bangladesh?
A: IPPL heard in 1976 from a Washington Post article
by Walter Pincus, a defense correspondent, that rhesus monkeys
were being used at the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research
Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, in experiments to test the
effects of neutron radiation. The tests involved training
monkeys to run in a treadwheel and exposing them to lethal
radiation. We started writing letters to the Department of
Defense about the experiments, trying to stop them. Then
we learned that the U.S. had an agreement with India regarding
the use of exported monkeys, in that their use was limited
to medical research and vaccine production. We contacted
India's wildlife department which contacted the U.S., which
denied misuse. So we sent press releases to all Indian newspapers,
English and vernacular, describing the experiments and requesting
a ban. The Times of India did an editorial denouncing the
experiments and calling for an export ban. The ban itself
was announced in November 1977 at the World Vegetarian Congress.
Indian animal advocates monitor the situation and we get
questions raised in the Indian Parliament every time there
is a rumor of trade resuming because of pressure from the
U.S. or elsewhere.
When India banned exports, a newly-formed U.S. dealership announced
it had a contract to export 71,500 primates from Bangladesh over a
10-year period. We contacted our representative in Bangladesh, Dr.
Zakir Husain, who had not heard of this but promised to look into it.
He did, and learned there was a super-secret contract. He managed to
get his hands on a copy and discovered that the contract contained
provisions for the use of monkeys in medical research. Soon, IPPL got
a tip-off that the first shipment of monkeys under this contract had
arrived in the U.S. We started the press release routine again and
the contract was canceled. We deluged Bangladesh's then president (General
Ershad) with letters supporting the ban -- it's so important to praise
good deeds when they happen. The U.S. dealer sued the Bangladesh Government
in both the U.S. and Bangladesh courts, but lost both times. The U.S.
actually threatened to cut off aid to Bangladesh unless it reinstated
the contract, but that small country stood up to the big international
bully (as it has done to drug multinationals selling redundant drugs).
IPPL employed a sympathetic lawyer, Laurens Silver, to protect Bangladesh's
interests in the U.S. case, which went as far as the Supreme Court:
Laurens helped all the way through.
Q: What are some of the most important issues IPPL is
working on at the moment?
A: We're checking markets around the world where primates
are sold as pets and food and to foreign dealers who prowl
these markets for valuable wildlife. We're campaigning to
close these markets. We're also raising funds for Limbe Sanctuary
in Cameroon which is home to rescued gorillas, chimpanzees
and monkeys. In addition, we're working to end the U.S. pet
trade in monkeys.
Q: How much are zoos, laboratories, and entertainment
involved in the primate trade, whether legally or not?
A: U.S. zoos mainly breed their own animals or bring
them in under permit. However, zoos in Asia, the Middle East
and Eastern Europe have no qualms about bringing in wildlife
of dubious origin. Laboratories mainly use common primate
species (macaques and baboons) which are allowed with export
permits from their homelands. Indonesia and the Philippines
allow export only of captive-born monkeys, but laundering
of wild-caught monkeys through breeding facilities may be
happening. For example, Chinese monkey breeders complain
about other purported breeders "laundering" monkeys wild-caught
Entertainers buy baby apes, especially chimpanzees, from breeders in
the U.S. and from dubious sources elsewhere. Some years ago the Russian
circus Sovincirk got five chimpanzees smuggled from Uganda; they were
confiscated on a circus tour of Hungary and sent to a rescue center
Q: Is the world community taking serious steps to control
trade in exotic or endangered species? What practical steps
need to be taken?
A: There is a Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species (CITES) on which all primates are listed
in either the endangered or the threatened categories. This
needs to be enforced. But CITES allows some trade and we
need to work for strong local laws. Most countries outside
the U.S. and Europe have weak or no animal welfare legislation.
This needs to be addressed. Wildlife markets need to be closed
down and the same goes for exotic animal auctions in the
U.S. The trade in primates for "bush meat" (human consumption)
needs to be addressed for conservation and animal protection
reasons and also for health reasons as chimpanzees have caused
two epidemics of Ebola virus and monkeys are suspected to
have been a cause of the world AIDS outbreak.
Q: Are you optimistic about the fate of apes in the wild?
A: No. Of concern is the plight of the mountain gorillas
due to the political instability of their entire habitat
(Rwanda, eastern Zaire and Uganda). Rwandan refugee camps
are situated on the edge of national parks and millions of
people are going into parks to collect firewood. Gorilla
protection activities are impossible in these circumstances.
Because people cannot get along, gorillas may disappear in
the century in which they were discovered. That's something
to think about.
Q: What practical steps can activists in the U.S. do to
support your work?
A: IPPL members are great letter-writers. Members
send letters all over the world in support of primates, and
we have been successful through it. Those who travel can
take photos of markets, bad zoos, etc. You can also go overseas
on rescue projects as volunteers. You can also partake in
eco-tourism which can provide financial incentives to local
people to protect wildlife, although eco-tourism is a two-edged
sword which must be properly handled.
Shirley McGreal is the chairwoman of International
Primate Protection League. For more information, contact IPPL,
P.O. Box 766, Summerville, SC 29484. Tel.: 803-871-2280 or fax
803-871-7988. IPPL is on the web: www.sims.net/organizations/ippl