Volume 95, Issue 86
Friday, March 15, 2002
Can you outdrink a monkey?
McGill prof studies their drunken ways
Imagine someone sipping on a rum-mixer under a palm tree in the sunny Caribbean.
Now imagine that someone is a monkey.
While this may seem far-fetched, a McGill University professor is heading a research project that involves intoxicating the green vervet monkey, native to the Caribbean Island of St. Kitts. Frank Ervin, a professor in psychiatry, has been researching monkeys in St. Kitts since 1983.
Ervin said this specific type of monkey was selected for the project because it shares 96 per cent of the same genetic makeup as humans.
A major focus of the research is to document heritable disorders in humans including hypertension, drug abuse, anxiety and alcoholism, he said.
"When given the choice, the monkeys preferred to drink rum mixed with water, instead of just water alone," Ervin said. The green monkeys, as Ervin refers to his subjects, also enjoyed rum mixed with molasses.
Ervin chose the green vervet species of monkey because they are abundant in St. Kitts. "They outnumber the population of humans," he said.
"No more than three to five per cent drink themselves into a coma [those monkeys] are severe alcoholics," Ervin said. "A serious drinker would drink 15 to 20 grams of rum to every kilogram of their weight." He added the monkeys reacted to alcohol in a similar way as humans would.
Ervin said he is continuing his research in St. Kitts and currently approximately 1,000 monkeys in captivity for research purposes.
"It seems ludicrous to use animals in a way that seems unnecessary," said Stephanie Brown, an advisor at Animal Alliance of Canada, an animal protection organization.
Both Animal Alliance and Global Action Network a national animal rights organization said Ervin's study could be considered cruel to the animals involved.
Andrew Plumly, a director at GAN, said it is pointless for the medical school at McGill to use animals in their research.
"McGill is not weeding out using animals in their research," Plumly said. "Using animals to test anything is absurd and pointless. The results always end up inconclusive for human beings."
At Western, most of the animal research involves small animals like rats and mice, but some primates are included in experiments, said Ted Hewitt, Western's associate VP-research.
"We follow all provincial laws," Hewitt said. "No pain or suffering is inflicted [on animals]."
Copyright © The Gazette 2002