Life of macaques
inside an italian
university lab

Never seen before footage from an Italian primate lab

Watch the video
of the investigation

Marta, Charlie and other macaques are imprisoned in the cages of an institution at a major Italian university. These are not their real names, which we have decided not to divulge just as we will not divulge the name of the person who worked in this laboratory with the aim of documenting and revealing the sad life of these animals.

These macaques live in small metal cages that are completely barren. They have electrodes inserted into their skull or temple, required for the neuroscience experiments to which they are subjected. Their life of total deprivation leads many of them to exhibit stereotypical behaviour: they move backwards and forwards within the cage, compulsively lick the walls and bite the padlocks and bars.

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We did not document particularly painful experiments, but rather the infinite sadness in which these macaques live for long years of research. Beyond the door of the laboratory where they are taken for experiments, imprisoned in containment cages, we do not know what happens.

We believe that these images are sufficient for us all to question the use of animals in Italian universities and research centres. The impotent gaze of the macaques touches the heart and cannot leave us indifferent. The question these animals seem to ask is “Is it really not possible to make this no longer necessary?”

Food is their only happiness, which I can only give them in small doses: it is used to make them “collaborate”, they tell me. Some of the monkeys haven’t had a drink in almost a week; when I turn on the tap they try to get my attention, they shake the bars, scream, with their mouths they make the gesture of when they are drinking from the drinking bottle; they are thirsty, very thirsty.”

D. our undercover investigator

Animal research in Italy

Approximately 600 laboratories are authorised by the Ministry of Health to carry out animal experiments. These are public or private research centres, located within pharmaceutical companies, universities and hospitals. The good news is that, year after year, the total number of animals used for scientific research is gradually decreasing: today there are just under 600,000, while only ten years ago there were almost 1 million. This is thanks to new technologies and the obligation for animals to be used only when strictly necessary and if no alternatives exist, and very probably also to the growing awareness of this issue within society.

  • 2013: 723.739 animals used
  • 2014: 691.666 animals used
  • 2015: 581.935 animals used
  • 2016: 611.707  animals used
  • 2017: 580.073 animals used

The numbers are still high and especially in some areas such as education and training (where the use of animals is prohibited except for higher education) and basic research (where there is no obligation and it is therefore the researcher’s choice to use animals), the practice could be eliminated or considerably reduced with immediate effect.


Despite a positive downward trend in the number of animals used, it is worth noting an increase in the use of macaques. In 2015 there were 224, a figure which doubled to 454 in 2016 and reached 548 in 2017. This number increases still further if primates re-used in a second procedure are included, leading to a final figure of 586 primates. In this case, it is important to note that the Ministry should authorise the use of non-human primates only in exceptional cases and only if the research cannot be conducted in any other way.

The macaques most commonly used in Italian laboratories are Macaca fascicularis. These animals come from farms in China, Laos, Vietnam or Mauritius Island. Although they were born in cages, many of them come from mothers recently captured in the forests. This practice is required in order to ensure good genetics in the animals, which would deteriorate with too many generations in captivity.

Why we are publishing this footage

Laboratory experimentation is one of the areas in which images and footage are hardest to obtain. As an organization, our aim is to reveal what happens to animals in order to remove every last veil of secrecy from the practices to which millions of them are subjected. Awareness is the first fundamental step towards discussing these practices and thinking about ways to eliminate them. It is in this spirit that we are publishing this investigation with a view to contributing to a discussion within society, but also within the scientific community, towards ending experimentation on primates and all other animals.


Although they may also come from external pressure, changes in a sector often depend heavily on internal dynamics. Already, there is an obligation to use animals only when strictly necessary and if no alternative methods exist. The implementation of alternative methods therefore depends on the scientific community itself. For this reason, it is precisely from within the sector that people interested not only in curing the terrible diseases from which so many of our fellow human beings suffer, but also in putting an end to a method that 80% of Italians consider cruel, should emerge and find more scope. These two paths do not and need not conflict.

We need minds that study and develop alternative methods, as well as more funding, more debates on ethical limits in science, scientific journals that give space to these issues, students who dream of becoming great scientists and being able to solve this ethical social dilemma. And it is to these people that the impotent gaze of the little macaques in the video is directed. Please make every effort to ensure that these images become nothing but a sad memory just a short time from now!

FAQ on animal research

  • Why ask for an end to animal research?
    • Simply for ethical reasons. We cannot continue to regard animals as guinea pigs and instruments of research, inflicting suffering on them in order to cure others of suffering and disease. Sensitivity to animals has increased dramatically in recent decades and science has evolved on all fronts. We have invested resources to take us to the moon and Mars, now is the time to also find the way to a future with no animals in laboratories.
  • What can I do as a citizen or consumer?
    • We can choose cosmetics from completely cruelty-free companies and household cleaning products that have not been tested on animals. This is an important but limited choice. Unfortunately, the animal experimentation system is not easily boycotted. Even printer inks, glues or herbal remedies such as chamomile have been the subject of animal research. For this reason, it is also necessary for the scientific community to push for a change of direction.
  • What can a student do?
    • The students of the scientific faculties are the scientists of the future. We trust the new generations to bring empathy for animals and the desire for change to the scientific system, directing more energy towards finding paths that will make it possible to eliminate animals from research laboratories. In Italy, students can avail themselves of Law no. 413 of 12 October 1993, the first in Europe to make conscientious objection possible. By law, each secretariat is obliged to have the forms to fill out. These can also be downloaded from the websites of the various faculties.
  • Why not publish details of the experiments to which the macaques filmed in the video are subjected?
    • What we wanted to launch is an ethical appeal to civil society and the scientific community. Our aim is to reveal the sad lives of animals locked in cages, forced into meaningless and stimulation-free lives and to make people reflect on how urgently we need to put more effort into eliminating this method of research as soon as possible.
      We are not scientists and therefore do not wish to enter into a scientific debate on the merits of the ongoing research. Publishing information on experiments would have shifted the debate to this level, to the undeniable need to find cures for certain diseases or the usefulness or otherwise of this or that experiment. A discussion that we will leave to the insiders.
      We, on the other hand, are citizens and therefore part of society and as such are fully entitled to enter into the ethical debate, especially with regard to what happens in universities, financed with public money. We want to talk about this and believe it is urgent to do so.
  • Why not publish the name of the university and researchers in this video?
    • We filmed the sad living conditions of macaques in a neuroscience research lab. These conditions do not vary much from laboratory to laboratory. For this reason, but also to protect both the person who recorded the footage and the people who work at the institution, we decided not to reveal the name of the university and the researchers involved. We simply want to make you think about the fact that even today in Italy hundreds of non-human primates are used for research (586 in 2017), many of them for invasive and long-term experiments. These images could be the same in Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, Lazio or Veneto


Thanks to our team of investigators, millions of people are discovering the reality of animal abuse and cruelty and can help to change things. Our work saves animals and needs your support.

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