Each year, more than 32,000 wild-caught primates are sold on the international market. Some conservative estimates are that more than 25% of this trade is illegal. In fact, INTERPOL (the international police agency) maintains that illegal wildlife trade is a $5-billion-a-year business, second only to drugs as a worldwide black market. The animals are sold for food, for use in laboratory research, for exhibition, and for keeping by private individuals as companions.
Under the Public Health Service Act, nonhuman primates may be imported into the U.S. and sold only for "scientific, educational, or exhibition purposes." Nonhuman primates may also be imported for use in breeding colonies provided that all offspring will be used only for these purposes. The animals may not be imported into the U.S. for keeping as companion animals or for occasional display purposes. The law also does not allow primates to be brought into the U.S. for medical treatment or to be retired at a sanctuary. Although some nonhuman primates are imported for exhibition (both zoo and circus), the vast majority of animals are brought here for use in laboratory experimentation.
Every year for more than a decade, the United States has imported about 1/3 of all primates sold internationally, a greater number of primates than the following four importing countries combined, with the United Kingdom consistently importing the second highest number of primates. Though the number of primates imported each year has fluctuated, Japan, Russia, the Netherlands, France, and Taiwan have long ranked among the top five importing countries. In recent years, wild-caught primates have been exported from many countries where they exist indigenously — predominately from Indonesia, Malaysia, Kenya, Thailand, and China.
In addition, primates are bred in captivity in the United States and sold for the pet trade, to circuses and other traveling shows, to roadside menageries, and for breeding. It is uncertain how many primates enter the trade through captive breeding each year, but the number is estimated to be in the thousands.