Friday, February 12, 2010

"My" Valentine's Day Monkey

Shopping our way out of the problem of the exploitation of animals (or any other social ill) isn't really as effective as ads would have you believe, but I really do love my new "necklace," a Primate Freedom Tag. It's the same idea as the POW/MIA bracelets from the Vietnam War (and it comes in keychain length, too). Each tag is unique, imprinted with the serial number, gender, date of birth, species, and location of a monkey or nonhuman ape being held for experimentation in one of the United States' Primate Research Laboratories. The tag I chose at random a couple of days ago turned out to be for a male Rhesus Macaque whose birthday is actually tomorrow, February 13. "R98006," who is being held at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, was born in 1998, so his 12th birthday will be tomorrow, the day before Valentine's Day.

I wonder---seriously, I really do wonder---if anyone who is "working" with him will notice this fact, and if they do, will they acknowledge it in a way that he can benefit from? Does R98006 get a birthday or Valentine's Day present of love in any form? Maybe a day of freedom from cages? A day off from being tortured? Perhaps (but not likely) someone will feed him one of the 92 types of plant foods (fresh fruits, leaves, seeds, tubers, and bark) that wild rhesus monkeys normally consume. If he's being kept in a cage alone, does he get to spend his birthday with other macaques? In the wild, living in areas that range from near desert to snowy mountain heights, macaque troops number around 200, on average. Of course, macaques used in research have difficulty socializing normally after living years in isolation---they develop neurotic problems like hair-plucking or self-mutilation---so R98006 might not be able to enjoy the company of another macaque any more.

So the next thing I need to do is contact the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, where R98006 is being held. He may not even be alive any longer, but if he is, maybe they will tell me how he spent his 12th birthday. I'll ask them to tell me how he's being used, if he's caged alone or with other macaques, what the lab's future plans are for him. I hate thinking about all of this, but doing nothing and feeling hopeless about the situation doesn't do me or R98006 any good. He could live another three to eight years, and the time he may or may not have left will likely be just as nasty and brutish as the first 12 years have been.

For me, wearing a Primate Freedom Tag and writing to ask about "my" monkey, is a reminder not only of the hard realities of life for captive primates in research labs, but also of the hope that experimenting on them could become illegal in our lifetime. To learn more, please visit the Primate Freedom Project website.

(Posted by Marina)