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Comparative Minds Research Group

Unveiling the Silent Suffering: Study Exposes the Trauma of Rescued Macaques from Illegal Primate Trade in Laos

In a groundbreaking research initiative spearheaded by the Universitat de Girona (UdG), the harrowing toll of the illegal primate trade has been laid bare through meticulous investigations conducted in Laos. Employing the innovative BESSI (Behavioural, Emotional, and Social Skills Inventory) framework, the study delved into the psychological and emotional welfare of rescued macaques, revealing the profound scars inflicted by their ordeals in the illicit wildlife trade.

The illegal trafficking of wildlife, including primates like macaques, represents one of the most significant threats to biodiversity and animal welfare worldwide. Operating in the shadows of law enforcement, this clandestine industry thrives on the exploitation of vulnerable species, driven by demand for exotic pets, traditional medicines, and entertainment purposes.

Within the heart of Laos, a nation notorious for its role as a hotbed of illegal wildlife trafficking, the research unfolded at the Lao Conservation Trust for Wildlife (LCTW), a beacon of hope within the darkness of exploitation. Here, amidst the lush landscapes of Laos, each rescued macaque bore witness to a story of anguish and resilience, a testament to the relentless cruelty of the illicit primate trade.

Through meticulous analysis, the study unearthed a stark reality: rescued macaques, traumatised by their ordeals, grapple with a myriad of emotional and social challenges. The study, which involved 53 individuals representing various species including Macaca arctoides, Macaca assamensis, Macaca leonina, and Macaca mulatta, analysed behavioural patterns, emotional responses, social interactions, and personality profiles among the rescued macaques. Stripped of their natural habitats and familial bonds, these primates exhibited a notable decline in social interactions, coupled with heightened levels of anxiety and stress, as evidenced by aberrant and stereotyped behaviours.

Lead researcher Amapola Rey reflects on the findings, stating, “What we have uncovered is a hidden tragedy of immense proportions. Behind the veneer of rescue lies a tapestry of suffering endured by these innocent beings. Our mission is to employ the science to shine a light on their plight and advocate tirelessly for their well-being.”

Dr. Miquel Llorente, head of the research team and principal investigator of the Comparative Minds Research Group at the UdG, emphasizes the urgent need for action, remarking, “The connection between illegal primate trafficking and animal suffering is undeniable. It is imperative that we translate our findings into concrete measures aimed at eradicating this barbaric trade and safeguarding the welfare of these vulnerable creatures.”

Furthermore, the study revealed insights into the personality traits of the rescued macaques. Using Cattell’s 16PF questionnaire, the researchers identified three personality domains: Introversion, Calmness, and Unfriendliness. The findings suggested that the adverse past experiences, including early mother separation and high exposure to humans, significantly influenced the personality structure of the study sample, leading to elevated scores in unfriendliness and anxiety.

This study serves as a poignant reminder of the urgent need to confront the scourge of illegal wildlife trade and foster a future rooted in compassion and respect for all living beings. The comprehensive findings of the study are published in F1000Research. Access the full article:

Press contact:

Dr. Miquel Llorente, Comparative Minds Research Group;

Article: Rey, A., Padrell, M., & Llorente, M. (2024). Impacts of illegal trade on socio-emotional and behavioural skills in macaques. F1000Research, 13, 188.


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