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NHP Breeding Industry

Annual revenue of $2 billion for the Mauritian economy in the next 10 years 

A passionate debate over the Nonhuman Primates (NHP) Breeding Industry has found its way in the news headlines over the past few days. For some, it is yet another tug-of-war episode between a few animal and/or political activists and the authorities. For others, it transcends the common spats and rises to the level of philosophical warfare, pitting the economic ambition of the country against the emotional fight of activists for the well-being of animals. A case of money versus morals. Or is it? On both sides of the debate, actions are not without an agenda. A rational one from the industry, and an in-construction one from other quarters. On one side, fingers are pointed at the monkey-money-making industry, while on the other, official sources hint at hidden motivations and source of funds…


What is happening in the NHP Breeding Industry in Mauritius? What is it all about? BIZWEEK went to hunt for answers.


For a bit of context, no monkey species is native to Mauritius. They were introduced on the island back in 1598, with the arrival of the Dutch. Much like other introduced animals, they played a part in the extinction of endemic species, and took over their habitat. And they proved very successful at it. Nowadays, the number of monkeys in the wild is estimated to be above 60,000. They are said to still cause major damage to indigenous fauna and flora, and are considered a threat to native biodiversity.


Monkeys are also reported to be crop raiders and are regarded as pest by conservation bodies, as well as by the local population. According to FAREI reports, about $ 3 million of damage is attributed to monkeys each year, and a number of small planters have had to abandon their fields due to damage done to their orchards and crops by monkeys.


386 years after their arrival in Mauritius, the increasing number of macaques, as this particular monkey species is known, caught the attention of Mary-Ann Griffiths, who pioneered the monkey breeding industry on the island. Mrs Griffiths grew up in Mauritius up to the age of 15, before going to Australia, where she lived and studied. She later worked for the National Research Centre, where she realised the importance of monkeys in medical research. At the same time, the overpopulation of monkeys in Mauritius was becoming a real issue. Indeed, monkey guards – who were literally paid to shoot monkeys – was a full-time job back then.


Mrs Griffiths decided to apply for a land lease for the breeding of monkeys for the purpose of medical research exportations. It took some time before the government gave its approval, and the industry was not a very profitable one for a very long time.


But medical research is a critical field that has the power to change and save lives. One of the primary tools in this quest for knowledge and solutions are animal models, specifically monkeys. In the fight against some of the most severe human diseases, such as diabetes, dengue, chikungunya, and Covid-19, monkeys have been instrumental. Notably, monkeys from Mauritius have made significant contributions.


Each year, an estimated 18 million animals are used for medical research globally. Of this number, approximately 130,000 are monkeys, with 11,000 to 12,000 coming from Mauritius. The majority of exported monkeys, some 80% of them, are today said to be breed ones, which are more consistent for medical research. While animal lovers may be surprised to learn that more dogs are used in medical research than monkeys, it’s essential to understand the significance of this practice. Medicines or injections given to pets like dogs or cats have often been tested on these animals before being released on the market. This testing process ensures the safety and efficacy of these treatments.

By opposing this industry, we risk losing the opportunity to be world leaders in a specific field. The question then becomes: Why kill an industry in which we could be number one?”

When it comes to medical research, the use of animals is often a contentious issue, one that incites passionate debates about ethics, necessity, and alternatives. The question, however, shouldn’t be about the existence of this industry, but rather about the ethical treatment of animals in the process, an observer says. It is argued that the monkey-breeding industry in Mauritius operates under strict regulations, arguably stricter than any other such industry worldwide. And whatever effects the medical research done on the animals has, they are not born out of cruelty or pleasure, but out of necessity, of a need to save lives.


What about alternatives?


“The complexity of the human body surpasses even that of our most advanced supercomputers’ capabilities to predict weather patterns. To feed these supercomputers with data that can lead to life-saving medical breakthroughs, we need animal models. Developing medicine is a meticulous process that begins with identifying a disease and understanding how to correct it. Researchers then determine what molecules can be created to counteract the disease. These experiments originate from both universities and the private sector,” a professional of the industry explains.


“Once a potential solution is found, efficacy studies are conducted. These studies, which take place after obtaining government approval, involve animal testing – typically pigs, dogs, and monkeys. Safety studies follow, ensuring that by solving one issue (like a pancreas problem), the medicine doesn’t cause damage to other organs such as the brain or heart. The debate surrounding this industry should not centre on its existence, but rather on ensuring the ethical treatment of animals involved in the process. It’s crucial to remember that the primary purpose of this industry is not for pleasure or profit, but to save human lives. As we navigate the complexities of this debate, we must acknowledge the invaluable role that this industry plays in advancing medical science and contributing to the betterment of human health.”


The economic situation of Mauritius cannot be ignored in this debate. Traditional industries like textile, sugar, and tourism have their limitations, and can’t solely sustain the economy. For instance, the textile industry has seen a decline from MUR 15 billion to 11 billion, highlighting the need for diversification. The Non-Human Primate (NHP) Breeding industry presents an opportunity for Mauritius to maintain its economic stability through a niche industry. This industry is legal and heavily regulated, providing a chance for the country to lead in a specific global market.


A Sustainable Economic Model


As Mauritius navigates the economic challenges of the 21st century, the NHP Breeding industry emerges as a potential powerhouse. If properly managed and developed, this industry could generate annual revenue of $2 billion for the Mauritian economy within a decade, indicates an official.


Unlike the tourism industry, which relies on imported products and materials to operate, the NHP Breeding industry is primarily dependent on local resources. This distinction makes it a more sustainable and resilient economic model, particularly in times of global uncertainty or supply chain disruptions. While the net inflow of dollars from tourism may not be as significant after accounting for operational expenses, the NHP Breeding industry’s contribution to export figures is considerable, currently standing at nearly 20%. And it is growing. In 2017, the export of macaques generated around MUR 700 – 800 million. By 2023, the revenue from the NHP Breeding industry had increased to nearly MUR 3 billion, underscoring the rapid growth and economic potential of this industry, claims an official.


In Mauritius, both the NHP Breeding industry and the tourism industry have grown concurrently over the past 40 years. This growth indicates that the expansion of the breeding industry has not adversely affected tourism. Both industries have thrived, debunking any notion that the rise of one might lead to the downfall of the other.


The NHP Breeding industry holds immense promise for the Mauritian economy. With proper management and adherence to ethical guidelines, it could become a leading sector, generating significant revenue and contributing to the nation’s economic stability and growth. As Mauritius continues to diversify its economy, the NHP Breeding industry stands out as a viable, sustainable, and lucrative option.


In making that choice, we wouldn’t be alone on the world stage. The practice of NHP breeding for medical research is legal in countries such as France, the United Kingdom, India, and China. Indeed, India and China have ceased exporting macaques, as they are vital for their own medical research. These nations recognise the scientific and economic value of this industry, and have established regulations to ensure ethical treatment of animals involved.


“Finding the right balance between economic ambitions and the emotional aspects of this industry is crucial. By opposing this industry, we risk losing the opportunity to be world leaders in a specific field. The question then becomes: Why kill an industry in which we could be number one? While the ethical treatment of animals in the process of medical research is of paramount importance, it’s also vital to recognise the potential benefits that such an industry can bring, both medically and economically. The key lies in balancing these two aspects, ensuring that the industry operates under strict regulations that prioritise animal welfare, while also contributing to the advancement of medical science and the economy of Mauritius,” an observer highlights.

Extract from the Biopharma Industry Development Report for Mauritius

Three years after the deadliest pandemic in modern history, the small and remote Indian Ocean island of Mauritius ambitiously positions itself as a regional leader in the biopharma industry. This endeavour is supported by the European Union, which not only funded the report, but also fostered public-private partnerships and engaged with the Mauritian diaspora. The President of the Republic of Mauritius unveiled the final report on Biopharma Industry Development in a workshop held in October 2023. The event brought together the Deputy Director General of the European Union Commission, experts from Africa RISE (Reform for Investment and Sustainable Economies), senior officials from the public sector, directors from the Mauritius Institute of Biotechnology, and representatives from the private sector. Below are a few extracts of the report: 

Opportunities for Animal Research in Mauritius 


Mauritius has a supply of Macaque monkeys which are exported to the US for the purpose of biopharmaceutical research. The export of monkeys is a process that is costly and is not appropriate for the welfare of the monkeys.  Non-Human Primates (NHPs) represent the standard preclinical model in several areas of biopharmaceutical research which have the objective of addressing unmet needs in human diseases. NHPs are useful to test medicines in neuroscience, fertility disorders, and vaccines. During the Covid-19 pandemic, vaccine development often involved monkeys in the final stages of pre-clinical testing, to ensure the safety and efficacy of any vaccines before human clinical trials. All leading Covid-19 vaccine candidates (Moderna, Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech, J&J) used rhesus macaques during preclinical testing.  There is a shortage of NHPs for research purposes as China, the main supplier, has banned exportation since the Covid pandemic. There is a clear business opportunity for Mauritius derived from animal welfare regulatory amendments. An opportunity for Mauritius to grow the Animal Research Business Sector, results from the proper implementation of the animal welfare regulatory amendments. 

Proposed changes to the regulatory framework for animal research in Mauritius 


It is proposed to create a new ‘Bio-Pharmaceutical Act for Animal Research’ that will replace part III of the Animal Research Act that will regulate preclinical research in accordance with internationally accepted standards of GLP.  The new Animal Research Act that will protect the welfare of animals used for research purposes by establishing: 


  • A system of accreditation of establishments for animal research.
  • Application, fees, and license to authorise organisations and individuals to conduct research. 
  • A Committee on Animal Research and Ethics (CARE) to review and approve and monitor research within Accredited Animal Research Establishments, including conducting inspections of animals and facilities, thus ensuring the monitoring the effectiveness of the legislation and 
  • A mechanism to inflict financial and custodial penalties in cases where animal research is conducted without authorisation and where animal research contravenes the Animal Welfare Act. 

Responsibilities of the Committee on Animal Research and Ethics (CARE) 


  • Accreditation of research establishment for animal research. 
  • Review and approval of research studies and 
  • Compliance with regulations. 

Application for accreditation as research establishment


The application for the accreditation as a research establishment must include the following:


  • The applicant’s full name, postal address, email address, and contact phone number.
  • The full names of the directors of the corporation.
  • A description of the supplier and source of the animals.
  • A description of the location of all premises used to hold animals for use in the research. The location of the research facilities must be separate from the area where the animals are housed.
  • The types of animals held and
  • For each species of animal, the number of animals held at the time of the application and the annual turn-over of each species.
  • A description of the number of staff involved in the care of animals for research.
  • Training programs provided or intended to be provided for the staff and the names and qualifications of the people who will supervise the research.
  • The qualified person must be a registered veterinarian and must have experience in animal research, and
  • A description of the type of research conducted by the applicant
  • Accreditation application fees reflect the size of the establishment, based on the number of animal researchers at the establishment (holders or proposed holders of Animal Research Authorities).
  • Accreditation and licenses will be granted for a period of up to three years and will need to be reviewed and a new licensing fee will apply.

Innovation capacity in Non communicable Diseases (NCDs) R&D – Strategic need 


Non communicable diseases (such as Diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, Ischaemic Heart Disease, Hypertension, cancers, respiratory disease) offer a significant opportunity for Mauritius to establish itself as a major player in R&D in Africa. The burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in sub-Saharan Africa alone grew by 67% between 1990 and 2017 (measured as disability adjusted life years – DALYs) reflecting a significant rise in the proportion of total DALYs attributable to NCDs from 18% to 30%. (Source: Africa CDC, April 22). 


A recent WHO publication (Deaths from noncommunicable diseases on the rise in Africa | WHO | Regional Office for Africa) highlights the need for concerted action in Africa. It reports that Noncommunicable diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes are increasingly becoming the main cause of mortality in sub-Saharan Africa, where the diseases were responsible for 37% of deaths in 2019, rising from 24% in 2000 largely due to weaknesses in the implementation of critical control measures including prevention, diagnosis, and care. In Africa, between 50% and 88% of deaths in seven countries, mostly small island nations, are due to noncommunicable disease, according to the 2022 World Health Organisation (WHO) Noncommunicable Disease Progress Monitor. The report also finds that in seven other countries – majority of them being Africa’s most populous – the diseases claimed between 100 000 and 450 000 lives annually. The rising burden of noncommunicable diseases will exert pressure on treatment and care services. In the African region, the number of people living with diabetes, for example, is expected to reach 47 million by 2045 up from 19 million in 2019. 


Clinical Research into this area in Africa is very limited and there is currently an unmet need globally and in Africa for innovative research focussed on practical research on improving clinical outcomes for NCDs and innovative drug clinical trials .Mauritius has the potential for becoming a centre of excellence for Africa for NCD research .The attractions of Mauritius lie in the high rate of NCDs prevalent, its multi-ethnic population, and its excellent healthcare infrastructure and primary health care access. 


It is proposed that the MIB coordinates the establishment of a Centre of Excellence for Clinical Research in NCDs. This can be achieved in a reasonable time frame and would involve the MIB taking the lead in setting up the centre in collaboration with local and international institutions such as universities, the ministry of Health, the WHO, and Global NGOs focussed on NCDs. The establishment of such a centre of excellence in Mauritius would give a huge boost to the attractiveness of Mauritius to CROs for conducting large multi-centre phase 2 and 3 clinical trials and to the development and local manufacture of biopharmaceutical products intended for NCDs. Benefits of this initiative are compelling for the MIB and Mauritius: Enhanced capacity for research and innovation, significant public healthcare benefits, income from clinical trial activities and high value job creation. 

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