This Issue | Editorial | Feature | E-mail
The Use of Guyanese Primates in “Scientific Experiments”
by Seelochan Beharry
Guyana Journal, February 2006

Two letters written by Dr. Jonathan Sachs justifying the sale and use of Guyanese monkeys for scientific experimentation (medicine and pharmaceutical) were published in Stabroek News 2nd and 7th Feb., 2006. His arguments are that wildlife is a renewable resource and can bring in much needed dollars to Guyana. The latter reason was repeated in the second letter.

These two reasons were the very ones that have often been used to justify the subjugation and destruction of any supposedly inferior species: (1) these nonhuman species are a renewable resource (there are plenty more where those came from), but now many species are threatened; and (2) it is good for the local economy (give the local people and traders a few trinkets (beads, mirrors, cloth, etc). Everybody is happy, except the captive animals. These same reasons have been advocated for other horrendous events.

The animals had no rights then, just as the monkeys sold have no rights now, and are condemned to a life of misery, until their organs are required or they are no longer useful.

These same reasons have been used to justify the testing of drugs on unsuspecting poor people in poorer communities (without proper compensation). In the USA, these inhuman experimentations were also said to have been done. It is usually the poor who pay, and the rich reap the benefits of the exploitation of the poor.

If these experimentations were a pleasant and safe experience why not use paid consenting American adults in your research. Or is the life of an American or the rich worth more?

In the current case, the monkey-catchers, the middlemen, and scientists are all happy, except the captive – monkeys. They have been betrayed/condemned to a horrible life by the ‘higher primates’ in the land of Guyana. Is it not the responsibility of the strong or those who know better to protect the weak or less sophisticated?

Dr. J Sachs states: “The majority of monkeys from Guyana go to vital scientific research.” Would Dr. Sachs tell how he is aware of this “fact”? Does he have a system or is he aware of such a system to track the monkeys sold from Guyana? What does he mean by ‘vital experiments’? Dr. J. Mengele was doing ‘vital experiments’ at Auschwitz. Please tell us to whom are the experiments “vital”? Is it the researchers and/or the pharmaceuticals companies? Let us be honest: it is publications for the scientists and profits for the companies, or both. Certainly, the monkeys do not benefit. The life of a primate cannot be valued in money.

We have to protect and maintain our rich biodiversity heritage.

We are further told by Dr J Sachs that the research benefits the “the citizens of Guyana in the form of new medicines, treatment techniques, and general advances in medical science.” We are so poor that we cannot even afford to pay for the old medicines much more the high priced new medicines that Dr Sachs and others are working on. We would be happy to afford the old ones, but most of us usually do not live as long to get those diseases of the rich countries. The UN and the Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation are now trying to get research done on primary diseases (diarrhoea, malaria, etc.) that affect millions of people of the third world, especially those that affect children.

Dr. J. Sachs said: “I am not aware of any primates from Guyana being used in such (ghastly bio-warfare) experiments in recent times.” There are numerous research (Private and Public) labs in the USA and the Western World; no researcher (unless that is his/her specific job) can know what goes on in these other labs. Most scientists are so wrapped up in their own demanding work that they hardly know what is happening next door. Incidentally, not because you personally do not know about any abuse, means that abuse is not taking place elsewhere. Scientists like everyone else do not squeal and/or are very reluctant to report on their colleagues. Does Dr. J. Sachs have the necessary security clearances to visit labs (Govt. and or Private) where such experiments are performed?

It is also very easy for Monkeys sold as pets to be bought and used in these experiments, with no outsider ever even being aware. This is another reason why monkeys must not be sold as pets. They developed neurotic behaviors when taken from their natural environments and family groups. They belong to the forests; let us leave them there.

I have some serious problems with Dr. Sachs’ apparent condescending view that anything-can-be-bought attitude that came across, rightly or wrongly. Currently, Guyana is a poor country and some of its leaders (across the board) are uninformed and may sell anything for short-term gain; Dr. Sachs seems to have pressed that button very well. But they are also some good and well-informed people left in Guyana, in addition to a well-informed Guyanese Diaspora, who would take a stand.

Many of us Guyanese also welcome numerous others in the world to join/encourage/teach and help us do the right thing. We appreciate the efforts of Dr. Shirley McGreal to bring this matter to the public’s attention. Hopefully, we can protect and preserve our bio-diversity heritage as part of the world animal wildlife heritage conservation.

The monkeys are Guyana’s rich natural heritage. These are our primate brothers; we are their natural protectors. Big Brothers do not sell Little Brothers into bondage. In the Amerindian legend of the Great Flood, we read of the monkeys seeking the protection of man, and they got it. In this age of environmental awareness and inter-relationship of species, we shall rise to the occasion and protect them. We would also guard them against poaching at every level (zero tolerance). We would have to work with neighboring countries (Brazil, Venezuela, and Suriname) and others to set up effective controls and enforcement. Scientists, who want to study primate behavior, etc. by non-destructive methods, are welcome.

Anyone who wants to see these monkeys in their natural settings can visit Guyana. There are lots of Ecotour Group/Companies waiting to welcome you.

Seelochan Beharry PhD taught Chemistry at the University of Guyana. He now lives and works in Canada.
© Copyright GuyanaJournal