China is being put forward as a world leader in primate biomedical research (see Nature 532, 300–302; 2016), even while its wild populations of primates are being lost at an alarming rate because of illegal activities and poor conservation practice.
Take rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta), the species most frequently used in biomedical research. The wild population of these primates in China was estimated at about 200,000 in 2008, with a further 40,000 kept in breeding centres (see go.nature.com/1sl2bqx).This number of captive animals has since significantly increased and may, along with the 20,000 exported each year, include individuals that were bred outside captivity (see X. Hao Cell 129, 1033–1036; 2007).
Despite the changes that China is making on paper to improve its conservation policies, the declining state of its 19 native primate species conveys a different story. These animals are disappearing because of habitat disturbance, illegal export and hunting — including for traditional medicine.
The country seems to us to be more concerned with increasing its reputation in biomedical primate research. That reputation will be boosted by the large input of government funding and by Western researchers flocking in for the reasons you mention.
China's position on conservation issues and on primate welfare should not be skated over. Animals are not exploitable, and wild populations should not be an afterthought.
About this article
Scientific Data (2017)