The Sydney Baboons Are A Reminder That Animal Testing Is Still Happening In Australia

We need more scrutiny around animal testing in Australia.

animal testing australia

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Where were you when the Great Baboon Escape of 2020 happened?

I was glued to Twitter in my Parliament House office, hoping the baboons were okay — and dying with laughter at the memes being posted. (I did think people who suggested the baboons were escaped politicians were being a bit unfair to the baboons.)

However, after all the baboon shitposting came some serious questions: where were the baboons from? Why were they outside a hospital for humans? Were they going to be subjected to testing or forced into research?

Animal Testing In Australia

Many people don’t know that animal testing is still common in Australia and that there was a pretty serious background to the story of the baboon who gave the snip the slip.

The reality is millions of animals are used annually for research and teaching in Australia every year. According to Humane Research Australia, two hundred and seventy-two primates, including baboons, were used in experiments in Australia in 2017, the last year we have solid numbers from.

We don’t know much about what is done to ‘non-human primates’ — usually baboons, macaques and marmosets — but the stories that emerge are often shocking.

A 2016, Sydney Morning Herald investigation detailed “Frankenstein-like” experiments on animals including one where a baboon was killed by complications from researchers transplanting a pig’s kidney into his body.

Even in less extreme cases, it’s important to know that animal research and testing almost always causes serious stress, harm and suffering to the millions of animals subjected to it.

So What Can Be Done?

To start, we need far greater transparency on animal research.

It’s hard to trust claims from researchers that animals are looked after well, when we have no concrete way of telling what’s being done to them or what conditions they’re kept in.

Instead of keeping things very, very quiet — as they currently do — I think it’s time governments were open about the testing they allow. An easy place to start would be creating national testing statistics, that currently aren’t possible because South Australia, the Northern Territory, and the ACT won’t publish any data at all.

The next question is whether we need to do animal testing at all?

In many cases there are alternatives to animal testing including exciting advances in computer modelling and lab-created human cells. Some scientists argue that the alternatives solve more than just ethical problems, because they give more reliable and useful results than animal tests that aren’t easy to translate to humans.

If we’re not doing everything we can to find the technology and methods that could eliminate animal testing once and for all, then we’re failing terribly.

Our failure to invest in alternatives has put Australia way behind the rest of the world. In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency is investing millions in alternatives to animal testing. It aims to reduce the amount of studies that involve mammal testing by 30 percent by 2025, and eliminate testing completely by 2035.

In Europe, an EU Partnership for Alternative Approaches to Animal Testing has existed since 2005. A review this year found that the EU’s legislation designed to protect research animals is making a positive difference in the use of animals.

These are only some of the changes that animal welfare advocates in Australia are pushing to follow.

The Consequences Of The Baboons

This week, the Senate supported my motion calling on the Government to invest in the methods and technology needed to end the use of animals for research purposes. (They also supported me in wishing the Sydney baboons well!)

That’s a significant step, but we’re just getting started on the work needed to stop imports of primate for research, guarantee transparency and deliver the investment needed in tech to end animal testing.

For now, I’m glad Baboon Week has highlighted that animal welfare is front of mind for the community.

Many other politicians desperately needed the reminder that how we care for animals reflects how caring our society is. Now’s the time to keep the pressure up to get concrete action.

From celebrating the best baboon memes to ending animal testing, I’ll keep working to make sure animals have a voice in parliament.

Senator Mehreen Faruqi, Greens’ Spokesperson for Animal Welfare