Nepal's First Primate Research Center to Breed Lab Animals

By Deepak Gajurel

KATHMANDU, Nepal, June 11, 2007 (ENS) - Two internationally known wildlife biologists - one from Nepal and one from the United States - have expanded their long collaboration in the field to establish Nepal's first primate research center. Based on the captive breeding of Nepal's rhesus monkey, the center will facilitate the study of disease progression and treatment in both countries.

Dr. Mukesh Kumar Chalise, president of the Nepal Biodiversity Research Society and associate professor at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, is well known for his efforts in the conservation of Nepal's wildlife with particular focus on non-human primates.

Dr. Randall Kyes, associate professor at the University of Washington in Seattle and Head of the Division of International Programs at the Washington National Primate Research Center, has worked for 20 years to promote the conservation of natural populations of primates around the world.

Their international partnership blossomed when they collaborated as Fulbright Scholars at each other's institutions during 2001-2002.

The two scientists are modest when discussing their accomplishments, but they speak with passion and conviction when it comes to the need for human health care.

They have initiated an international program dedicated to supporting research into some of the world's most pressing health concerns such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and tuberculosis.

As part of this collaborative program, they are establishing Nepal's first primate research center to facilitate the study of disease progression and treatment in Nepal and the United States.

The Nepal Primate Research Center will support the captive breeding of Nepal's common rhesus monkeys, and the offspring will be available for research addressing human diseases.

Permission for the collaborative breeding program was granted in 2003 by the Nepal Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation following enactment of the government's Wildlife Farming, Breeding and Research Working Policy. It was the first to receive official approval in Nepal.

The policy allows for the captive breeding of a variety of species, including rhesus monkeys, and stipulates that only the captive-bred animals may be used for scientific research.

Kyes points out that the rhesus monkey is a species common throughout Asia that has been used for more than a half century in the study of human disease. This species has contributed to some of our earliest vaccine discoveries for viruses such as polio and yellow fever, he says, and is the primate model of choice for much of the research on human AIDS.

Both Chalise and Kyes assure that the Nepal Primate Research Center will adhere to the highest standards and strictest guidelines regarding animal care and use and will follow the principles of sustainable use that have been outlined by the IUCN-World Conservation Union and the World Health Organization.

The scientists believe that to help ease human suffering from disease, the humane use of animals for research is justified. Both are committed to the conservation of wildlife but say that conservation also involves support of the human species. Chalise and Kyes also are continuing their field work by conducting population surveys of Nepal's primate species such as the Assamese macaque, rhesus macaque, and Hanuman langur, and an ongoing study of the endangered snow leopard in the Himalayas. During their field training program in Langtang National Park in February, Chalise and Kyes witnessed a snow leopard stalking a herd of Himalayan thar on the cliffs in Langtang village. This was a significant observation that further confirms Kyes' 2006 discovery of snow leopards in the park. The two scientsts conduct an annual training program in conservation biology that provides classroom lectures and field-based training in the conservation of Nepal's most endangered wildlife such as the Assamese macaque, snow leopard, red panda, and musk deer. More than 100 university students, park rangers and wildlife journalists from around Nepal have taken the training. The program also provides community outreach education in conservation for elementary and middle school students from Kathmandu to remote mountain villages in Langtang National Park. Kyes and Chalise say the outreach helps shape the children's way of thinking about their environment and the need for conservation, and teaches about the critical importance of generating public support and engaging local people in conservation programs. They say that only by striking a balance between the needs of humans and sustainable management of the world's natural resources can we ensure the future of both.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.