Kenya Airways is pledging to stop transporting lab monkeys to the United States after several escaped in the wake of a highway crash in Pennsylvania, a development that came as animal welfare activists pushed for a federal investigation into the crash.
The January 21 accident near the exit of Interstate 80 in Montour County, Pennsylvania led to an intense one-and-a-half day search for escaped primates and ended the whole thing; Three of them were later killed. A Pennsylvania woman who came into close contact with monkeys after the plane crash has been monitored after developing cold-like symptoms.
The accident prompted the Kenyan airline that transported the animals to the United States to halt shipments of the primates. Kenya Airways did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday, but CEO Alan Kelavuka told The Associated Press in a statement that the airline will not renew its contract with the unnamed shipper when it expires at the end of the month.
The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals applauded the decision.
“Monkeys are complex creatures whose basic needs — home, family, and community — are not met in laboratories,” PETA Vice President Alka Chandna said in a statement. “Kenya Airlines’ decision is important to all of us because the global transport of monkeys also risks the potential for infectious diseases.”
A dump truck and a tractor carrying crates of monkeys crashed near an exit on I-80 near Danville, Pennsylvania. The monkeys recently arrived in New York City on a Kenya Airways flight from Mauritius in East Africa and were headed to an approved quarantine disease control and prevention center whose location has not been disclosed.
Pennsylvania soldiers at the time warned people not to try to touch or catch monkeys because they had not been domesticated.
“Anyone who sees or locates the monkey is asked not to approach, catch or contact the monkey. Please call 911 immediately,” the agency wrote on Twitter.
The CDC had contact with a 45-year-old woman who had been near monkeys at the crash site and then developed cold-like symptoms.
In a letter Tuesday to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Lisa Jones-Engle, a primatologist who serves as a scientific advisor to PETA’s primate experiments, called for an investigation into the crash for possible violations of hazardous materials transportation rules. The letter also called on the agency to investigate the public health risks of importing monkeys into the country.
Transportation Department representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Jones Engel said cynomolgus monkeys, also known as long-tailed macaques, such as those involved in the accident, are usually brought into the United States through an importer and then supplied to a pharmaceutical company or university research laboratory. She estimates that an average of 25,000 to 30,000 monkeys are imported into the country each year.
Jones Engel said the way it is imported, raised, and shipped across the country creates serious public health risks. She said some monkeys, especially from Asia, are being “plucked from the wild” without being quarantined before and after the international crossing. The animals have not been vaccinated, she added, and some may come from abroad and are temporarily housed in a home breeding facility where they can pass the infection on to other monkeys.
In October, an investigation by the Arizona Republic revealed an outbreak of disease in monkeys at the University of Washington’s primate facility in Arizona, the consequences of which have led to nearly 50 monkey deaths over an eight-year period and potentially jeopardized millions of dollars in biomedical research.
“These monkeys also come with things we don’t know to look for, this new infection,” Jones-Engle said, adding, “There is nothing more effective for viral mutations than continuing to bring in new animals and new possibilities for socializing.”