Iran has reportedly been spending big on monkeys.
And no, it’s not to make Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad feel more at home.
Hundreds of endangered monkeys are being taken from the African bush and sent to a “secretive” laboratory in Iran for scientific experiments.
Manji said scientists at the Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute in Iran had bought 215 vervet monkeys from him this year but he had become suspicious about their true motive, although he was still trading with them. They had “spent a lot of money” on getting the monkeys, even sending over scientists to check on each consignment.
“Iran is very secretive,” said Manji, who has been exporting monkeys for 22 years. “They said it [the monkeys] was for ‘our country’, for vaccine. [They said] ‘We don’t buy vaccine from anywhere; we prepare our own vaccine’.
“But I think they use it for something else. You know why? Because they don’t go on kilos. Iran wants [monkeys weighing] 1.5kg to 2.5kg, [but] 1.5kg for vaccine is not possible.”
Rubibira indicated that finding out what the Iranians wanted the monkeys for would be difficult. “They cannot say, you know. They are secretive. They wouldn’t tell the truth.”
The revelation will fuel speculation that the monkeys may be used for research involving biological weapons. Primates are typically used by scientists wishing to test both the effectiveness of germ warfare agents and defences against them.
The Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute, which has its headquarters in Karaj, near Tehran, has been accused in the past by an Iranian opposition group of conducting biological weapons testing.
According to US intelligence, the pharmaceutical industry in Iran has long been used as a cover for developing a germ warfare capability.
In 2005 the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence said Iran “continued to seek dual-use biotechnology materials, equipment and expertise that are consistent with its growing legitimate biotechnology industry but could benefit Tehran’s assessed probable BW [biological weapons] programme”. Earlier this year it reiterated this.