The London airport monkey run.

The London Airport monkey run involved the suffering and death of thousands of monkeys. So many that the media dubbed it the massacre of the monkeys.

Hundreds of thousands of research monkeys and baboons passed through Heathrow Airport between the Second World War and the 1980’s for the pet trade and biomedical research. The airline route was colloquially known as the London airport monkey run by the airlines. There were so many fatalities involved that at one point the media dubbed it the massacre of the monkeys.

The shipments were mostly from India and Africa but also South East Asia and South America. Most were heading for North America and Europe although many were imported into the U.K. In the fifties and sixties there were also specially chartered flights arriving at airports across the country full of monkey shipments. Some of them managed to escape causing media headlines.

London airport monkey run.
Rhesus monkeys at London airport c1960 destined for research. T E Patterson was one of the largest primate traders in the U.K.

The London airport monkey run caused horrific suffering and deaths .

On New Year’s day 1955, 457 Rhesus monkeys were left in an unventilated British Overseas Airways Corporation (B.O.A.C) van for three hours on the tarmac at London (Heathrow) Airport awaiting loading. When the back door was opened 394 had suffocated to death. Some cynics suggested that the monkeys met a better death by suffocation than they would have done had they reached their destination. Another 1,000 sitting in two ventilated vans survived.

Although a deplorable incident, it was unfortunately a regular occurrence over the decades. Tens of thousands suffered and died from dehydration, pneumonia, starvation, asphyxiation, disease and shock. This was caused by unsuitable crating, overcrowding, extreme temperature and air pressure changes, shock and a total lack of understanding of their needs.

Thousands also suffered or died before reaching the aircraft during capture and holding and journeys to the departure airport. And of course few survived the research done on them.

London Airport monkey run.
60 monkeys in 9 open cages packed seven per cage in cages only suitable for three arrived ‘terrified’ and in a state of shock’ destined for medical research and imported by Shamrock Farms one of the largest primate dealers. Daily Mirror February 1970

RSPCA open a hostel to deal with the carnage.

The situation was so awful that the airlines were forced to seek advice and guidance and turned to the RSPCA. In 1948 the RSPCA had protracted negotiations and discussions  with the airline companies and the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Society agreed to act as a clearing house for scientific and practical knowledge on the transport of animals by air.

They also agreed in principle to lease land on the airport to construct a reception centre to care for animals delayed on their journeys or transiting where they could be given food, lodging, exercise, first-aid or veterinary attention. This 24 hour facility opened in 1953 as the RSPCA Airport Hostel for animals.

RSPCA Airport Hostel, Heathrow airport oppened in 1953.
The hostel opened in 1953 to deal with the carnage .

Horror sea voyages.

But it was not just by air that there were problems. The fifties were a cross over time when animal dealers were moving from sea transport to aircraft, but monkey shipments were still suffering on board ships. In September 1959, 300 monkeys left Singapore on what was called a “horror voyage” to London onboard a Ben Line Steamer, and 120 were found dead when they arrived at the docks.

Large adults, youngsters and pregnant females had all been crammed together in crates and fought over food killing each other. They were taken to the RSPCA airport hostel for care, the only place that existed to deal with such an emergency. One the RSPCA staff stated to the media that “it was a terrible sight. I shall forget it for as long as I live”. The monkeys then had to face another voyage to Rotterdam and their destination.

The RSPCA and the media campaigned throughout the 1960’s and into the 1980’s to end the carnage but incidents continued.

Over the next few decades, the staff were to witness regular weekly horror shows and helped and comforted these frightened, stressed and pitiful monkeys. Pulling out the dead and dying and new-born babies or aborted fetuses would often reduce them to tears.

Investigations always promised and guidelines introduced but little changed.

But the horror continued into the 1960’s even though the Government introduced the British Standards for the Carriage of Live Animals by Air in 1961. And in 1970 the International Air Transport Association published mandatory minimum guidelines for transporting animals to those airlines that were members. But few were members and those that were, often ignored them. The guidelines were also badly flawed because of lack of understanding.

Massacre of the monkeys.
Dead squirrel monkeys which were the most commonly used South American primate for biomedical research and pets as they were small and easy to handle. The trade and deforestation decimated wild populations and some species are still vulnerable.[Photo: John Brookland 1979].

It was never going to change because shippers were only interested in keeping shipping costs to the minimum and the carriers did not want to lose money by refusing trade. The airports realised that if they intervened the shippers would avoid Heathrow and route them elsewhere.

Massacre of the monkeys.
Dejected and confused young baboons just released from their cramped crates receiving rest and comfort at Heathrow’s quarantine station before their onward flight to America destined for research. It was always upsetting to see them. [Photo: 1981 John Brookland]

I unfortunately experienced these tragedies in the 70’s and 80’s as an animal inspector and manager of the then Animal Quarantine Station that took over from the RSPCA. What upset me most was the look of despair, hopelessness and fear on their little faces and their dejected demeanour.

Even more sadly they would often put their hands through the wire for reassurance which was heart-breaking. The shame of it allis that the U.K Ministry of Agriculture could have stopped the trade through the airport but decided to ignore it.

Massacre of the monkeys.
Staff care for a shipment at Heathrow’s quarantine station in 1982 before their onward flight. It was heart-breaking when they put their hands out for food and reassurance.[Photo: John Brookland]

Monkeys are still shipped round the world for research.

Deaths continued well into the 1990’s and even today more than 80 years after it all started, primates are still being airlifted in some parts of the world. The numbers may be much smaller and the conditions more controlled but there are still instances where they suffer and die. Welfare organisations still plead with airlines to stop carrying them. They have had some success with many having placed a ban on their carriage.

Associated Book:

A book chronicling the cruelty and suffering caused to animals passing through Heathrow Airport in 1970/80s with graphic images and Foreword by Sir Peter Scott.

Injury damage to health and Cruel treatment book cover
ISBN: 9781519300164 56 pages with b/w photos. RRP £4.99 + £1.50 p&p. UK Orders Only Non UK please contact bitzabooks@gmail.com for price.
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Remembering the carers of the war horses.

We tend to overlook the men who often risked their lives to care for and safeguard their comrades the war horses under atrocious conditions while in action at the front.

When we think of the war horses during the remembrance period we tend to overlook the men who risked their lives to safeguard and care for them, particularly while in action at the front. These men not only witnessed the horrors of their human comrades being killed and mutilated but also their equine comrades. My grandfather Edwin Clark was one of these men.

Men were often killed caring for their beloved horses.

At about 6 p.m. on the evening of the 30th. September 1918 my grandfather Edwin Clark and his fellow artillery drivers of the 13th. Battery Canadian Field Artillery were “feeding-up” and watering their war horses at the wagon and horse line a mile back from the front line near the town of Raillencourt.

Suddenly they heard an aircraft approaching. It was a German plane and before they could take cover it dropped some newly invented  “Daisy-Clipper” bombs into the middle of the horse lines. They were designed to explode a few inches from the ground throwing shrapnel all around. The bombs killed one driver named Wishart and badly wounded nine others including Edwin. He received his third wound of the war, hit by shrapnel in his upper thigh, but survived. Many of the poor horses were killed, injured or fled. The scene was described in this way in the battalion war diary:

“The affair was over in less than 30 seconds but the bursting charges, the shouts of the men and the agonised shrieks of injured and terrified horses made a scene of indescribable chaos”

I cannot imagine my grandfather’s state of mind at that precise moment surrounded by crying injured men, shrieking horses, the sound of shots as horses were put out of their misery and the smell of cordite and blood. Hopefully he was too shocked and dazed to take it all in.

war horses, horses in war
War horse being treated for shrapnel wounds. They were viewed as legitimate targets.

The war horses were viewed as legitimate targets.

The horses and mules were viewed as legitimate targets by both sides due to their importance in supplying the gun batteries with ammunition as well as transporting the guns. They faced being shelled, bombed, gassed, sometimes shot and suffered horrific shrapnel injuries. Many suffered shell shock and remarkably others learned to lie down and take cover when under fire.

An officer wrote in the war diary that:

“the duty of the ‘stable pickets’ was an unenviable one, especially at night, when horse lines were being bombed or shelled. Quite apart from the danger of the explosions, there was always the chance of the picket ropes breaking and the horses stampeding. Horses frequently fought and kicked, becoming entangled in ropes and had to be followed and caught in the dark.”

 Like most of the human recruits, the horses had never experienced such noise, chaos, smells, violence and hardships and they did not have the capacity to realise what was happening to them or likely to happen to them. So everything occurring around them was terrifying until they became accustomed to it.

War horses in Great war, war horses
The horses were friends, comrades and confidents. They were in it together.

The ultimate example of man’s dependence on animals for solace.

The horses and mules became friends, confidants, fellow comrades and pseudo counsellors with whom the men could air their grievances, discuss their suffering and help alleviate their depression and melancholy. Without their companionship, the physical and mental well-being of the men would have been far worse than it was. The relationship is probably one of the ultimate examples of man’s dependence on animals for solace.

The men spent most of their waking hours caring for them often under almost impossible conditions. They fought together, rested and ate together, often slept together and ultimately died together. They were in it together. There is no getting away from the fact that their lives were unforgiving and unremitting, but at the same time the men responsible for them lavished as much care as they could to alleviate their suffering and formed incredible bonds with them.

An officer responsible for vetting his men’s letters home wrote in the war diary:

Drivers often almost wept as they wrote of their faithful friends – the horses – wishing so much that they could be given more feed and better shelter. Such care and attention they gave these dumb animals. When nothing else was available an old sock was used to rub them down or to bandage a cracked heel, while breast collar and girth galls were eased by wrapping light articles around the harness to keep it from rubbing against the sore spot.”

It is impossible for me to visualise or comprehend the carnage and horrors my grandfather must have witnessed to both humans and horses as it is the stuff of nightmares, but I like to think that my grandfather was a humane man and did all that he could to ease the suffering of the horses and mules in his care.

I am so proud of him that I wrote a book about his experiences and the life of war horses at the western front. BUY IT NOW from Bitzabooks.com the publisher using the PayPal link below or from Amazon Books.
War horses. There From the Start book cover
RRP £9.99 ISBN: 9781094956763 UK orders £11.00 including shipping using PayPal button below. Shipped direct from publisher bitzabooks.com

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