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January 23, 2013

NIH Panel Says Lab Chimps Should Go to Sanctuaries

While a handful of members of Congress delayed action on a recent bill to phase out the use of chimps in invasive experiments during the lame-duck session, yesterday a National Institutes of Health Working Group tasked with examining the NIH’s future role in chimpanzee research made sweeping recommendations to further the goal of phasing out chimp use. The panel’s recommendations include phasing out all current biomedical research grants involving chimpanzees in laboratories, ending chimpanzee breeding, and retiring the vast majority of government-owned chimpanzees to sanctuaries. These recommendations are bound to please more than 30,000 members of the public who urged this very set of actions in letters that we delivered to the agency in June of last year.

CHIMP5_106269
A chimpanzee stares out from her cage at the New Iberia
Research Center. Over a dozen chimps were recently
transferred to Chimp Haven from the NIRC, the first of
113 that will go to sanctuary.

This working group, formed in response to a groundbreaking Institute of Medicine report in 2011, also tackled the important question about what kind of environment is “ethologically appropriate” for chimpanzees — in other words, what kind of environment is necessary to meet the complex needs of chimpanzees. The group concluded that only certain sanctuary settings, such as Chimp Haven and Save the Chimps, can meet the needs of the animals. It’s important to note that, based on the criteria set forth in the report, not one laboratory could be considered ethologically appropriate. As a result, the working group urged retirement of more than 300 government-owned chimpanzees to sanctuaries that meet certain standards.

While we are extremely pleased with the working group’s report, we have concerns about the recommendation to keep approximately 50 chimpanzees available for potential future use. Importantly, however, such research would have to meet very strict criteria as assessed by a group of various stakeholders, including members of the public. In addition, the recommendations made it clear that any chimpanzees remaining in laboratories need to be kept in more ethologically appropriate conditions set forth in the report. The NIH will be making a final determination on these recommendations in late March after a 60-day public comment period.

In other exciting news from yesterday, I’m happy to announce that the first of the 113 government owned chimpanzees from New Iberia Research Center have arrived at Chimp Haven where they will spend the rest of their lives in the peace and comfort they deserve. The HSUS has pledged $500,000 toward construction costs for these chimps, thanks to help from one of our most generous supporters.

With the NIH announcement yesterday, it is clear that our challenge ahead is to augment capacity at the limited number of chimp sanctuaries that now operate. The government certainly must play a major role in providing these resources (since they are already paying to warehouse these chimpanzees in laboratories at significant cost, and sanctuary care is much less expensive) but we also call on pharmaceutical companies that have used chimpanzees to step up and help support sanctuaries. With their enormous profits and balance sheets, and their history of using animals in research and testing, it’s the least they can do to help meet the needs of these chimps.

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