Special Report:

Trends in Use

Primates by the numbers

Trends in UseAs in previous decades, in the early 2000s, the biomedical research community complained of shortages of monkeys for research and testing experiments,2, 3, 4 and convened meetings to address the perceived shortage,5 despite the tens of thousands of nonhuman primates who were held in labs but not used6 in experiments and the increasing trend in outsourcing or conducting animal experiments in other countries to avoid animal welfare-related regulatory oversight or financial burdens.

Data obtained from laboratories' Annual Reports submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) indicate that the use of nonhuman primates in laboratory experiments has climbed in recent years (Figure 1), and the future remains uncertain.

Recently, the use of most other animals regulated by the USDA for research and testing (e.g. cats, dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits etc.)8 has been largely declining, but in recent years, the numbers of nonhuman primates used in experiments rose from 57,518 in 2000 to 71,317 in 2010. (Figure 2) This is the largest number of nonhuman primates used in experiments in a single year since the USDA began tracking such data in 1973.7 When nonhuman primates used for breeding or otherwise held in labs are included in the totals for 2010, the number of nonhuman primates in U.S. labs totals 125,752. (Figure 3)

Marmoset - 698 imported into us, 2005-2010Although the USDA does not indicate the species or common names of apes, monkeys, and prosimians when recording the number of animals in the category of "nonhuman primates," the majority of them are rhesus macaques (Macaca mullata) and long-tailed (or crab-eating) macaques (Macaca fasicularis). There are just over 1,000 chimpanzees in U.S. labs.

In 1999, the top users and largest populations of nonhuman primates in the U.S. were primarily located at universities (or as part of the Regional Primate Research Centers, now called National Primate Research Centers, which are supported by the federal government). Data from 2010, however, show that several private companies, such as Charles River Laboratories, SNBL USA, Ltd., and Covance Labs (all of which import, sell and/or conduct experiments on nonhuman primates and other animals), have become the nation's top users of primates and have some of the largest captive populations. (Figures 4 and 5)

In 2010, laboratories self-reported using 30,808 nonhuman primates in procedures or experiments involving pain and distress, which represents 43 percent of the nonhuman primates used in experiments that year.9 Further, 1,395 of those nonhuman primates were reported as having been used in experiments or procedures involving unalleviated pain and distress. Figure 6 shows the top five laboratories using nonhuman primates in such experiments in 2010. These labs conduct infectious disease, toxicity, biowarfare, and other related experiments.

Continue Reading» 2. Cohen, J. (February 11, 2000). "Vaccine studies stymied by shortage of animals." Science. 287:959-960.

3. Lueck, S. (May 14, 2002). "Monkey deficit crimps labs." Wall Street Journal.

4. National Center for Research Resources. (2002). Survey of NIH-funded investigators who use nonhuman primates: Report on survey findings. Bethesda, Maryland.

5. Miller-Spiegel, C. (2003). "Weeds, pests, needs, and surplus: The rising use of non-human primates in the United States." AV Magazine, Summer 2003: 2-6.

6. Each year, tens of thousands of nonhuman primates are held in U.S. labs but not actually used in experiments. Here we distinguish between the total numbers of primates used in experiments and those who are otherwise held in laboratories (e.g., for breeding, future use, etc.).

7. 'Purpose-bred' mice and rats are the most commonly used animals in biomedical research and testing labs, but their use is not regulated by the USDA.

8. A previous analysis of nonhuman primate use in the 1960s included similar or larger numbers, but it is based on a different data set. See: Held, J.R. & Wolfle, T.L. (1994). "Imports: Current trends and usage." American Journal of Primatology, 3485-96.

9. These data are based on laboratories' annual reports to the USDA, and are considered to be subjective because the labs themselves decided whether or not an experiment or procedure caused pain and/or distress. Also, some labs may have not submitted data for 2010 by the time of our request.

Ending the Use of Animals in Science