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Issue 16
MRC Baboons
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THE DARK SIDE OF THE MRC's 'SOPHISTICATED PRIMATE FACILITY'


      The annual report 2002 of SAAVI (South African Aids Vaccine Initiative) waxed lyrical about the 'sophisticated primate facility' developed by SAAVI at the Medical Research Council's animal facility at Delft. This facility, which was to house both baboons and a breeding colony of imported Chinese macaques, would service the needs of the Medical Research Council as well as the Universities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch and was described as "well utilised and a key component of the (SAAVI) laboratory development plans."
      The report described this venture as a significant investment for SAAVI. Whilst they were aware of the fact that the macaques were not the perfect animal models for the testing of vaccines, they were the best available animal models. There was also the profit motive, which was definitely not to be wahooed at. So the report was at pains to explain that, although a significant investment, it was a potential income-generation project as macaques were in short supply globally. It was further pointed out that the project would require a steady supply of appropriate animals.
      The conditions of the hapless wild caught primates at the 'sophisticated facility' was aired on Kyknet's Spits programme, as described in Snout 15. But there was also the hidden aspect, not generally available for public scrutiny:
      An exposť in The Animal Voice magazine described the full torture and torment of baboons and vervet monkeys trapped along the S.A.Garden Route for vivisection laboratories locally and abroad and brought into sharp focus the bungling and callous disregard of the incalculable suffering, by Cape Nature Conservation, the Delft Holding Facility outside Cape Town and the man who trapped the animals, Mr. Appie Viviers.

It came to light that Mr. Appie Viviers:
  • carried out this work secretly under the noses of the Garden Route SPCA for 25 years
  • captured baboons and monkeys regardless of age and sex
  • received R300 per primate from the Medical Research Council
  • captured 40 primates a year, as per the requirements of the Medical Research Council
It is further known that the Cape Nature Conservation:
  • supplied Mr. Viviers with the permits for the capture
  • faxed Mr. Viviers these permits on demand without inspecting the facility in George, where the primates were held before being transported to Delft.
  • did not inspect the way in which the animals were transported to Delft. supplied the permits despite a disregarded moratorium on the export of wild caught baboons for vivisection purposes.
      But back to the conditions under which Mr. Viviers kept the primates in make-shift cages, in a dirty, unventilated, almost totally dark warehouse in Buitenkant Street, Industrial Area, George.
      The monkeys were in cages measuring 400mm x 400mm x 400mm; the baboons, in cages measuring 1500mm x 400mm x 400mm. At the time that the warehouse was discovered, there were 10 baboons in these cages including a mother and infant, and four monkeys. There was no water provided.
      When transported to the 'sophisticated' facility at Delft, they left George at 4am and arrived in Cape Town at 8am.
      Viviers said that the drug Ketamine, a scheduled medication used to tranquillise the animals, was provided by the Medical Research Council. The Garden Route SPCA inspector saw the drug being administered by labourers.
      Dr. John Austin, Head of the Medical Research Council's holding facility at Delft, near Cape Town, claimed he was unaware that the baboons were kept in a building in the industrial area of George. He said he himself was in charge of and responsible for the supply of Ketamine to tranquillise the animals. He admitted he had never visited the holding facility nor even seen the capture of baboons by Mr Viviers.
      Mr Johan Oelofse of Cape Nature Conservation said that Mr Viviers was authorised by Cape Nature Conservation to capture primates that had caused extensive damage to crops or property, where alternative preventative measures had been tried and had failed. He admitted that permits for the capture of the primates were faxed to Mr Viviers on demand (so there was no proof of extensive damage or that alternative preventative measures had been tried and failed). He also admitted that he had never inspected the facility in George where the primates were held before being transported to Delft in Cape Town, nor had he ever inspected the way in which they were transported.
      This once again highlights how descriptions such as 'sophisticated facilities' hide a very ugly reality from the general public.

Researchers world-wide have slammed the testing of AIDS vaccines on monkeys as senseless. According to Prof. Salim Abdool Karim, deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Natal, who is co-chair of the protocol committee overseeing the AIDS vaccine initiative: "We cannot extrapolate the findings to humans as monkeys and humans have different immune responses."



Photograph from Animal Voice.

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