Principles for the Ethical Treatment of Non-Human Primates

The following guidelines were formulated by the ASP Research and Development Committee, for the purpose of providing a public document regarding ASP standards for the use of nonhuman primates in research. The Board of Directors officially approved this policy statement in its present form on October 2, 2001. The finalized guidelines may be used by the AJP Editor when ethical considerations are an issue.

The stated purposes of the American Society of Primatologists (ASP) are exclusively educational and scientific; specifically, to promote and encourage the discovery and exchange of information regarding primates, including all aspects of their anatomy, behavior, development, ecology, evolution, genetics, nutrition, physiology, reproduction, systematics, conservation, husbandry, and use in biomedical research. The Society is organized around an interest in primates rather than a specific discipline; ASP members abide by specific guidelines for the use of animals developed by discipline-based organizations such as the American Psychological Association1, American Society of Mammalogists2, Animal Behavior Society3 and the Society for Neuroscience4. Because ASP members are grounded in a number of research disciplines, we accept the general applicability of these guidelines to primatological research, however specific recommendations developed by these societies may not address completely the special considerations that apply to working with nonhuman primates. Despite their varied disciplines, ASP members hold the following general principles in common:

  1. The most important of these principles is that we accept the responsibility of stewardship for nonhuman primates, and this responsibility must be reflected in our husbandry practices and research protocols whether in field, laboratory, or other setting.

  2. The number of nonhuman primates used in research should be the minimum required for valid research results.

  3. Research with nonhuman primates should avoid pain and distress at every opportunity.

  4. In all cases, the potential benefits of any research should be evaluated against the potential risks to the nonhuman primate subjects.

  5. We should make use of information on a species' natural history to improve management and enrich environments, because physical and psychological well-being are essential not only to the health of the animal but also to the validity of the research results.

  6. Finally, we recognize that our concern should be extended to nonhuman primates once they have become "surplus" to our research needs. This obligation entails ensuring quality care to the end of their natural lives whenever possible, and in the case of rare or endangered species, a diligent search for placement that will contribute to their conservation. While recognizing that some professionals believe euthanasia is an acceptable way to deal with surplus animals in some cases, we strongly urge that other solutions be found whenever possible.

The ASP concurs with guidelines of the International Primatological Society5 regarding the acquisition, care and breeding of nonhuman primates, and with the World Health Organization and Ecosystem Conservation Group policy statements6 on the use of primates for biomedical purposes. Individuals of endangered species should not be collected in the wild for use in biomedical research, unless the research holds promise for improving the health and conservation efforts on behalf of those species. ASP members accept the obligation to abide by relevant international, federal, state and local regulations concerning the welfare of captive animals7-11. ASP members can and should be the strongest advocates for the conservation and humane treatment of primates.

  1. Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in the Care and Use of Animals. American Psychological Association, Washington D.C., 1992.

  2. Guidelines for the Capture, Handling and Care of Mammals as Approved by the American Society of Mammalogists, 1998.

  3. Guidelines for the treatment of animals in behavioural research and teaching. Animal Behaviour, 55, 251-257, 1998.

  4. Handbook for the Use of Animals in Neuroscience Research. Society for Neuroscience, Washington D.C., 1997.

  5. IPS International Guidelines for the Acquisition, Care and Breeding of Nonhuman Primates: Codes of Practice 1-3. Primate Report, 35, 3-29, 1993.


  7. PHS Policy on the Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. NIH Office for Protection from Research Risks, Rockville, MD, 1986.

  8. The Psychological Well-Being of Non-Human Primates. Institute for Laboratory Animal Research, National Research Council. National Academy Press, Washington D.C. 1998.

  9. Animal Welfare Act, As Amended (1966 Act plus all amendments through 1990). United States Code, Title 7, Sections 2131-2156.

  10. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species Act of 1973.

  11. Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Agreement signed in Washington D.C., 1973; amended in Bonn 1979.