A legend of American journalism files one of the earliest dispatches from the monkey beat.
RED TAPE TANGLES INDIA’S MONKEYS
Policy Shift Strands 5,000 Animals at Airport on Way Abroad for Medical Use
by AM Rosenthal
New York Times
March 2, 1958
NEW DELHI: More than 5,000 small monkeys and two chartered planes have been grounded at New Delhi’s airport by Government red tape. It may be a break for the monkeys but it is driving the exporters frantic.
The animals represent an investment of more than $50,000. They were on their way to laboratories in the United States and Britain to be used in the production of Salk anti-polio-myelitis and other types of vaccines. India, a country where monkeys are almost as common a sight as pigeons at New York’s Forty-second Street library, is a vital supplier to the world’s laboratories.
But the fact is that the business of catching and shipping monkeys abroad has never been a popular one here. To tens of millions of Indians, monkeys, despite their mischievous marauding, deserve a special place of affection.
The monkey god, Hanuman, is one of the best-loved gods in the Hindu religion and there are temples to him all over the country. In the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, the monkey king Hanuman and his hordes helped the God Rama rescue his wife from the clutches of the demon god Ravana.
Despite the widespread public dislike for the export of monkeys, the Indian Government has recognized their importance in medical research and vaccine production. Licenses have been granted to a group of exporters to handle the business.
But the latest shipments of monkeys were stranded at Palam Airport just before they were scheduled to take off in special planes. The exporters were informed suddenly that monkeys weighing less than six pounds could not be sent abroad. Most of the monkeys awaiting shipment fell into that category.
The government said that monkeys less than six pounds were not useful for vaccine production and research purposes. The exporters denied this hotly.
According to the exporters, the foreign laboratories had specifically asked for small monkeys. As one put it: “Would I be spending hundreds of thousands of rupees in monkeys nobody wanted?”
The exporters are pressing the Government to changes its rule or at least permit the stranded monkeys to be sent. In the meantime, every monkey at Palam represents, to the exporters, a loss of $10 in catching and shipping charges and of $2 profit.
A staff member of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis said in New York his organization had been accepting monkeys weighing between four and eight pounds. The foundation imports about 100,000 monkeys a year for research and vaccine purposes, he said. Large monkeys are considered preferable for vaccine use because they yield more kidney tissue, he declared, but smaller monkeys are also used in research.
The Lederle Laboratories division of the American Cyanamid Company reporterd that its research unit had formerly used some Indian rhesus monkeys in the six-to-eight-pound range but now used Java monkeys averaging about four and one-half pounds.
Henry Trefflich, president of the Trefflich Bird and Animal Company, a large importer of animals for research, said he had been informed that shipments from India would now be limited to monkeys weighing six pounds or more and that they must be sent five or fewer to a crate. Previously, he said, three-to-eight-pound monkeys were shipped ten to a crate.