Air Canada urged to stop shipping monkeys

International animal protection organizations are calling on Air Canada to stop transporting monkeys destined for research labs following reports that some four dozen primates arrived in Toronto over the weekend.

International animal protection organizations are calling on Air Canada to stop transporting monkeys destined for research labs following reports that some four dozen primates arrived in Toronto over the weekend.

Animal-rights groups are calling on Air Canada to stop shipping primates, like these macaques, when they are destined for research. ((Associated Press))

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), a British-based animal protection organization, joined with Canadian animal advocacy groups STOP UBC Animal Research and Animal Alliance of Canada, after it learned that 48 monkeys from breeding farms in China were flown into Pearson International Airport.

The group claims it received a tip from a Pearson employee that the monkeys arrived from Chinese breeding farms on Jan. 22. The monkeys are usually held at the airport overnight, for up to 15 hours or more, before being sent on another Air Canada flight to Montreal.

"Shipping these highly sensitive and intelligent animals as cargo in small wooden crates is in itself appalling," BUAV's Director of Special Projects, Sarah Kite, said in a release.

"For them to have to suffer these cramped conditions for a further 15 hours or more is shocking. This is an issue of strong public concern. We urge Air Canada to join the growing list of airlines that have stopped their involvement in the cruel trade in primates."

The group claims thousands of monkeys are trapped in the wild annually, and more are bred in captivity under factory-farmed conditions. It said the monkeys are usually packed into small wooden crates — often too small to allow them to stand up. They must also endure delays, inadequate ventilation, noise and extreme temperature.

But Air Canada said it is required under a ruling more than a decade ago to accept the cargo.

In a 1998 ruling, the Canadian Transportation Agency ruled in favour of a shipper and against Air Canada when it attempted to refuse live cargo because it was destined for a laboratory.

"We are therefore obliged by federal law to accept monkeys as cargo. As a public carrier, Air Canada can only refuse carriage in very limited situations. We cannot by law refuse the carriage of animals for the sole reason that they could ultimately be destined to a laboratory or for research. We must comply with this 1998 Canadian Transportation Agency ruling," Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email.

Air Canada is one of a small group of companies that still ships animals for research, BUAV said. Companies such as British Airways, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Northwest Airlines, Qantas Airways, South African Airways, Delta Air Lines, Eva Air and China Airlines have all initiated policies recently to ban the practice.