Use of non-human primates for scientific purposes

The use of non-human primates for scientific purposes raises special ethical and welfare issues because of their close genetic relationship to humans, their complex and highly social behaviour and advanced cognitive capacity, their long life-spans and potential involvement in long-term research programs or re-use in multiple experiments over the course of their lives.

It is therefore essential that those involved with the care and use of non-human primates for scientific purposes ensure that their use is ethical and humane, and complies with all relevant legislation and guidelines.

A strong framework exists in Australia for the regulation and oversight of the care and use of non-human primates for scientific purposes.

The care and use of non-human primates must be conducted in accordance with relevant Commonwealth and state and territory legislation and the Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes (the Code), and must be approved by an institutional animal ethics committee (AEC) before it begins. The AEC must be satisfied that:

  • that the use of non-human primates is justified
  • there is no alternative to the use of non-human primates
  • the minimum numbers of non-human primates are used
  • adverse impact on the non-human primates is minimised.

The Principles and guidelines for the care and use of non-human primates for scientific purposes provide principles and best practice guidance for the care and use of non-human primates for scientific purposes.

NHMRC-funded research involving non-human primates

NHMRC recognises that there are differing views in the community about the use of non‑human primates for scientific purposes. NHMRC is committed to ensuring that any use of non-human primates in NHMRC-funded research is ethical and humane, and that non-human primates are used only when there is no valid alternative.

NHMRC requires the use of non-human primates in NHMRC-funded research to be ethically reviewed and approved by an AEC before the work commences, and to comply with the Code and relevant Commonwealth and state and territory legislation. NHMRC also requires compliance with the Principles and guidelines for the care and use of non-human primates for scientific purposes.

Additional information: Processes to ensure the ethical and humane use of animals in NHMRC-funded research 

Importation of non-human primates

The Commonwealth is responsible for regulating the importation of non-human primates with respect to biosecurity and compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). These responsibilities are exercised under the Biosecurity Act 2015 by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 by the Department of the Environment and Energy.

Under state and territory legislation, an animal ethics committee must approve the source of any non-human primates used for scientific purposes, and must be satisfied that any importation of the animals is necessary.

The Principles and guidelines for the care and use of non-human primates for scientific purposes requires non-human primates to be obtained from colonies in Australia or, if importation is essential, from captive-bred populations.

On 15 March 2016, a Senate Committee released the report from its inquiry into a Private Member’s Bill  that sought to ban the import of live non-human primates for the purposes of research. The Committee considered that the evidence received did not point to a need for a ban on the import of non-human primates for research. In addition, the evidence indicated that there will be significant effects on biomedical research in Australia should a ban on imports be implemented. Given this, the Committee recommended that the Senate not pass the Bill.