After the Sri Lankan Agriculture minister announced that the authorities are planning to export 100,000 endangered toque macaque monkeys to a private Chinese company, animal rights activists staged a protest, Voice of America reported.
The toque macaque, which is endemic to Sri Lanka, features in the International Union for Conservation of Nature's red list of endangered animals, it is not a protected species in Sri Lanka. After the announcement, conservationists and animal rights activists warned, however, they do not believe the Chinese zoos have space for 100,000 toque macaques and that it was more likely the monkeys would be used for testing in labs.
Sri Lankan authorities say farmers view the roughly 3 million toque macaques in Sri Lanka as a menace because they damage crops.
"Toque monkeys are the foremost among the animals that cause crop damage in this country. All the efforts made by the government so far to reduce its population have failed," Amaraweera said.
The conservationists have criticized the move, with many expressing fear the animals may be used for tests in labs, reported Voice of America.
Four conservation groups -- Wildlife and Nature Protection Society, Center for Environmental Justice, Federation of Environmental Organizations, and Rally for Animal Rights and Environment Sri Lanka -- said in a statement last week there are only 18 Chinese zoos fitting the "globally accepted criteria" of a zoo.
"This averages out at 5,000 macaques per zoo. This is not credible," the statement said.
"Macaques, with their human-like qualities have been particularly popular, especially with medical testing facilities in the U.S. and Europe. The potential income from such a trade would be far greater than that from the sale of this species to zoos," the statement continued.
The name of the Chinese company that sent the request for the toque macaques is Zhejiang Wuyu Animal Breeding Co. Ltd, and it has not issued any kind of a reply regarding the issue, according to Voice of America.
In a statement issued Wednesday, though, the Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka said the government agency that manages the import of wild animals in China was "unaware of the request [from China] and has not received such application from any side."
"The Embassy has noticed recent disinformation on local and foreign media about Sri Lanka exporting "100 thousand" of "endangered" toque macaque monkeys to a Chinese private company for "experimental purpose", as well as detailed clarifications by the Minister of Agriculture and the Cabinet Spokesperson of Sri Lanka thereafter," the statement tweeted by the embassy.
"The Embassy has also checked with relevant authorities in Beijing. The Chinese National Forestry and Grassland Administration, the main government department supervising and managing the import and export of wild animals and plants, clearly clarified that it is not aware of the request and has not received such an application from any side," the statement added.
The Embassy also stated that as a contracting party of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), China already adopted its Wildlife Protection Law in 1988 with several amendments afterwards.
The Chinese government always attaches great importance to wildlife protection and actively fulfils international obligations, which makes China one of the top countries in the world in terms of wildlife protection legislation and law enforcement, the statement read.