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Where did the monkeys go?

ALIVE'S Ms. Sato phones the head of the Japanese Monkey Centre and gets some dubious answers

In April 1998, Hakusan Park located in Niigata City transferred 37 monkeys to the Japanese Monkey Centre in Aichi Prefecture. At that time ALIVE had put in a strong request that those monkeys sould not be used for experiments (see NL #20).

According to information obtained from the mayor's office, the bill for housing and feeding those monkeys in the region of 1,000,000 yen a year was footed by the tax payers of Niigata, who, one assumes, should have the right to know how their monkeys were faring.

Since written requests by ALIVE to the Monkey Centre were left unanswered, I decided to try the phone. The conversation with Monkey Centre director Mr. Odera went as follows.

I: Aren't the Hakusan monkeys breeding?
Odera: No.
I: How do you prevent them from doing so?
Odera: The 17 males and 20 females are in two separate cages.
I: Are there no problems with this?
Odera: They're all right. (I questioned a monkey researcher about this, and he said that since monkeys live in groups, keeping them apart like this was contrary to their habits):
I: Where are you keeping the monkeys now?
Odera: In an area closed to the public.
I: Have the monkeys been tatooed for identification.
Odera: Yes.
I: I should like to see some pictures.
Odera: Not interesting.
I: In that case, I should like to come and visit.
Odera: I cannot show them to you because they are in an area closed to the public.
I: If you are busy, then maybe some staff member could show me around.
Odera: I shall tell the staff members not to show them to you. (!!)
I: The citizens of Niigata have for long years been friends with these monkeys. They pay a lot of money for their upkeep. Now I have read in the newspaper that they should be sold off to research labs, and as a citizen of Niigata I am obviously concerned. How should I understand your utterance that they cannot be shown to anyone?
Odera: (Silence)
I: Niigata City, in reply to questions by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), an adviser to the United Nations, and members of its own parliament, confirmed that the monkeys from its park would not be resold for experiments. Should Monkey Centre do so nonetheless, you would mislead not only the citizens of Niigata, but people worldwide.
Odera: (Silence)

What shall we make of Monkey Centre director Odera's evasive answers and silences? The citizens of Niigata think that their monkeys have been moved from their small cages to an open enclosure where they would be able to spend the rest of their lives. They must not be betrayed this way.

Two monkeys die:

In April 1998, Niigata City received five new monkeys from the Monkey Centre. Soon after, one of the female monkeys that had just given birth to a baby, died. The stress caused by the sudden separation from her child, and the fatigue from the long journey, led to her death.

A second monkey died in October from lead poisoning. The lead was either contained in the paint applied to the cages, or in the metal itself. Constant nibbling had probably been the cause. The danger now of course is that other monkeys get sick as well. There is no plan though to replace the current cages and fences with new ones made from steel.

Contact the Monkey Centre by phone +81 568 612327 or fax +81 568 626823.

The cry of wild animals...

The "revision" of the Wildlife Conservation Act

by Fusako Nogami

As controls on hunting and culling are loosened, Japan's wildlife gets cornered.

The Environment Agency will present its revision of the "Wildlife Conservation and Hunting Law" to parliament in February next year.

Passed in 1928, its language feels now dusty. Conditions have also changed dramatically, and roughly half the mammal species inhabiting Japan are teetering on the edge of extinction. In these dangerous times, one would hope for stricter legislation. However, the current proposal will effect the opposite.

It is based on a draft by a Liberal Party committee called on to consider "Counter measures for destructive wildlife", which was circulated in unaltered form among farmers who had reported damage, and also some specialist opinion was sought.

Main points of the revision

  1. Controls on hunting (by gun or snare) are to be loosened

    Since hunters are getting older on average, and their numbers are dwindling, several measures to stop these trends were proposed: fees should be lowered, at present separate permits for hunting by gun and by snare should be made into a general hunting permit, and the permit should be easier to obtain. The hunting season should be extended, and wildlife sanctuaries reduced in size. Already the hunting season for foxes, badgers and other fur producing animals has been made longer. In Hokaido the daily limit on deer hunting has been doubled from one to two animals.

    In contrast, there are strong feelings against promoting hunting for sport and recreation.

  2. The culling of destructive wildlife is to be speeded up

    Complaints about crop destruction by wildlife have dramatically increased, and since there is no system for compensation, calls for the culling of such animals have intensified. In order to speed up and facilitate this work, Environmental Agency chief Miya, citing decentralization, said he would relinquish authority to the prefectures, which in turn should make the communities responsible to carry out the task. However, there are problems with carrying out wildlife protection in small administrative units. Animals do not respect borders and will move from one unit to another. An animal that might enjoy protection inside city limits could be destroyed when it moves to the suburbs.

  3. Science, planning and population control

    Since culling animals of a species without any scientific information about population numbers may ultimately lead to their extinction, the proposal also calls for research into sustainable levels of destructive animals such as deer and bears. This, however, raises the fundamental question of up to what point humans can control nature. Population numbers vary greatly over time and are affected by factors such as climate change. Deer are decimated during cold winters. Since humans cannot control nature, why should they be able to control wildlife population numbers?

Rather than this: protect the natural environment

Even today, permission to cull destructive wildlife is usually granted. If in spite of this, crop damage does not decrease, there must be some mistake in the current approach. All over the Japanese islands, forests are mowed down, and roads, resorts, and golf clubs encroach on the natural habitat of wildlife. Further aggravating the situation are factors such as soil erosion, water pollution and freak weather. Hence what is really needed are measures to reverse the degradation of the environment in which these animals live.

Notes of a lecture which went

Beyond anthropocentrism

By Yukari Sugisaka

I went to listen to a life science forum entitled "Genetic science--the way ahead", which had been organised by the pharmaceutical company Novartis (a recent merger of the Swiss companies Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz). Panelists included journalists and researchers from relevant fields. Among them, anthropologist Prof. Kimura (Waseda and Georgetown Universities) made some interesting points about the problems related to animal experiments and the significance of of life.

  • unless we can overcome our current anthropocentrism, we shall face a dangerous future;
  • he is principally against cloning (including that of sheep);
  • the Swiss in a recent referendum vetoed an issue concerning biotechnology 6:4. The discussion of such vital issues should not be restricted to professionals, the people themselves should have a say. The role of the mass media will be vital;
  • it is strange that we associate a sheep or pig only with tasty food. The cloning of food producing animals must also be discussed;
  • there are some theoretical problems with the organ manufacture and transplant across species;
  • scientists are asking "What is life?" There are certain dangers if we think of humans as at the center of all, and only consider the wellbeing of humans. While there are many scientists that give priority to humans, he himself is opposed;
  • we have to put a stop to the trend to categorize living beings as "things";
  • as humans cross borders of knowledge and invent new techniques, they have to exert proper caution;
Prof. Kimura introduces this kind of thinking as a member of a think tank of the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare.

Highlights of the panel discussion

Since the DNA of the Escherichia coli has been completely analyzed, and hence its composition, structure, and functions are all know today, it seems possible that the Escherichia coli might be recreated synthetically at some point during the next century. This, anyway, is the opinion of the two pannelists Prof. Asano and Murakami.

Murakami: If "life" is defined as the ability to reproduce itself (by cell division) then it should be possible to manufacture a living thing such as Escherichia coli fairly soon.

Asano: It might become possible during the 21st century to produce animal organs in the laboratory.

Murakami: It is expected that by 2003 the structure of the human DNA will be completely analyzed, and that the information contained in the DNA can be made into a computer chip, which will open up a highly profitable market. The information of 2000 DNA chains can be stored on a single chip. In other words, even before a baby is born, any diseases it might fall victim to in later life may be detected, and prepared for. In this way the quality of life will improve.

Murakami: The current scientific consensus is that extending somebody's lifespan by even one second is a good thing. In future the quality of life must become more central. Human death today is natural. Yet even death is probably inscribed in the DNA. The desirability of extreme longevity is questionable.

Murakami: A year ago a head transplant between monkeys was performed in the USA. It was said that the transplanted heads moved their face muscles.

Also recently, the arm of a brain dead person was transferred to another patient, with blood and nerves and all. Good or bad, this will be the future.

Murakami: Researchers produced a mouse with high blood pressure by modifying its genes. Then they made a mouse with low blood pressure by knocking out that subsequence of DNA which had caused the high blood pressure. However, this "knock-out" mouse turned out to be handicapped in various unforseen ways. In other words, we cannot simplistically take out the "bad" genes and expect the rest to be perfect. Parts of DNA sequence do not just control one aspect of an organism, the also affect the whole.