Small Caribbean monkeys are some of Yale’s newest collaborators on the forefront of scientific research.
The St. Kitts vervet monkeys’ tendency to eat everything from ripe fruit to vegetable crops has been a problem for local residents ever since the primates arrived on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts three centuries ago. Lacking resources, the federation’s government has made only irregular attempts to control the highly observant and intelligent animals. Although scientists can control the monkey population by using them for research in facilities such as the Yale professor-run St. Kitts Biomedical Research Foundation, this practice has generated criticism from animal rights activists.
The Biomedical Research Foundation, founded by Yale psychology and neurosurgery professor Eugene Redmond, uses the monkeys in research on stem cells or gene therapy to cure Parkinson’s Disease, said Bijan Stephen ’13, who worked as a summer research assistant at the foundation. Stephen said in an email that the foundation was testing stem cell treatments on monkeys with an “animal model” of Parkinson’s disease.
Monkey overpopulation is a serious problem in St. Kitts, Redmond wrote in an email to the News. The large number of monkeys on the island makes it eaiser for the foundation to get healthy specimens. Besides research, he said the foundation also helps control the monkey population in non-lethal ways.
Without the monkeys, he wrote, important scientific research would be impossible to conduct. The foundation conducts its research on the island of St. Kitts, but many other labs in North America, such as one at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, use monkeys from St. Kitts.
Redmond said the Yale lab follows the appropriate guidelines and only uses monkeys in cases of clear need.
“The facility is accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care, International, the same organization that inspects and accredits the major American universities and biomedical research institutions in America, including Yale,” Redmond wrote. “For projects to be accepted, there have to be compelling potential public health benefits as well as no alternatives to the use of the monkeys.”
Still, the testing has proved controversial among some animal rights advocates, who hold that the monkey trade stems from corporate profit motives, rather than population problems.
Don Anthony, Animal Rights Foundation of Florida communications director, criticized the decision to use monkeys for research. He said overpopulation of monkeys on St. Kitts has been a problem for centuries but research companies are over-publicizing this problem to justify the export of the monkeys.
“Shipping them off to the laboratories in other countries is not the solution,” Anthony said, “That is done to make money for the research companies and the people who ship them.”
Instead of exporting monkeys for research or shooting them, as some islanders suggested, Anthony suggested other solutions to overpopulation, such as a spaying program. He added that tourists in St. Kitts should tell the government that the monkeys should be treated better.
“Problem is that most people who visit this destination don’t know that these animals are trapped in cages, injected with all kinds of different toxins in research facilities in other countries.” Anthony said.
About 600 vervet monkeys live at the foundation.