The High Court of Justice on Tuesday approved the sale of 40 monkeys bred in captivity for experiments in the United States, but banned the export of 50 monkeys born in the wild.
Animal rights groups had petitioned the court to demand a complete ban on the sale of 90 monkeys from the Mazor monkey-breeding farm to SNBL laboratories. In an afternoon session dealing with the petition, justices Salim Joubran, Hanan Melcer and Yoram Danziger offered a compromise that would ban the sale of 50 older monkeys, but enable the export of 40 monkeys born in captivity.
The owners of the Mazor farm were requested to address the offer by Sunday. The farm's director and co-owner, Moshe Bushmitz, said he would have to consult with the clients who ordered the shipment.
Three animal rights groups - Let the Animals Live, the Israeli Society for the Abolition of Vivisection and Behind Closed Doors - requested that the whole shipment be seen as one, but the justices rejected their plea, clarifying that the decision now rests with the farm's owners.
Justice Melcer quoted a Talmudic idiom to the petitioners - "If you have seized a lot, you have not seized" - meaning that they should be content with the compromise offer.
Justice Melcer mentioned several times during the session that the wider issue of shipping monkeys from Israel for experiments abroad would be addressed by the court in the future. The petitioners were told that their petition dealt only with monkeys born in the wild. "As for the future, all rights are reserved - but not with regards to this shipment," he said. "You did not seize the opportunity to deal with the wider issue in this particular case."
The petitioners said they "welcomed the fact that the High Court ruled that it wouldn't allow trade in monkeys born in the wild. With the support of the Israeli public we will continue our activities against the farm until it is closed, until the Mazor farm stops the cruel and superfluous trade in monkeys that serves only to enrich the farm's owners."
The Mazor farm submitted a request to export the monkeys six months ago, but activists appealed to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority to delay the permit. In March, Petah Tikva District Court directed the parks authority to approve the request, prompting Let the Animals Live to petition the High Court.
The justices decided to halt the shipment until a comprehensive debate of the issue could be held, despite the farm's owners insisting that a delay could lead to the deal being canceled.
Let the Animals Live claimed that the shipment, including 65 elder monkeys, was superfluous, since the farm failed to prove that the purpose was the creation of live-saving medication - a prerequisite for animal exportation set by Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan in January this year.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein supported the petitioners' position in a memo submitted to the court.
Let the Animals Live warned that severe cases of cruelty to animals were revealed at SNBL laboratories - the destination of the shipment - and that the journey itself amounted to unnecessary cruelty. The owners of the Mazor farm categorically denied both these claims.
The farm's owners responded that the specific experiments, aimed at finding a cure for degenerative arthritis, required adult nature-born monkeys. Furthermore, they said, there was nowhere else in the world where crab-eating macaques between the ages of 15 and 20, needed for the experiments, could be found.