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November 15, 2013

Great News for Great Apes

Last night, the Senate gave final approval to a bill – backed by The HSUS and the National Institutes of Health – that will provide millions in federal funding to assist with the transfer of chimpanzees from laboratories to sanctuaries. Passing this legislation was essential for NIH to act on its plan to retire nearly 90 percent of the government-owned chimpanzees whose fate is at stake.

A team of Republicans and Democrats from both the House and Senate – Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), and House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) – came together in an extraordinary show of support. Together, they passed legislation that will allow NIH the flexibility to proceed with the funding, and give retired research chimpanzees the opportunity to live the remainder of their days in suitable sanctuaries.

Kitty the Chimp at Black Beauty Ranch
The HSUS

The passage of this legislation, which now awaits the president’s signature, caps a remarkable series of successful initiatives executed by The HSUS and kick-started by an HSUS undercover investigation that broke on ABC News in March 2009. One of our brave investigators was hired by the largest primate laboratory, with the largest population of chimps, and found not only mistreatment, isolation and breeding of chimpanzees in violation of federal policy, but also long-term warehousing of chimps. Many of the chimps were not even being used in experiments. The question was, what’s the point of keeping them in these deficient environments and breeding more of them if so many are not even used?

The investigation added fuel to the effort to get chimps out of labs, and The HSUS helped spearhead the effort, working with federal lawmakers, with leaders at the NIH, and with the Department of the Interior over the last four years. Last night’s final passage of the CHIMP Act amendments was a milestone on a set of achievements that offer the promise of new lives for these great apes and an end to decades of persecution.

The turning point came when an expert panel of scientists, called to examine the value of chimpanzee research after our allies in Congress requested the review, determined that the use of chimpanzees was “largely unnecessary.” The panel said chimps had been useful in certain areas in the past, but we now have other ways to gather insights and information.

Some months later, NIH director Francis Collins accepted the recommendations and announced, in dramatic fashion, that NIH would in fact retire the vast majority of its government-owned chimpanzees to sanctuaries.

Then, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, responding to a legal petition from The HSUS, the Jane Goodall Institute, and other groups, proposed that all chimps, including the captives, be listed as endangered – a more stringent standard of protection with consequences for people who possess them, including laboratories.

As we gained ground in these areas, we realized that there was a limit on the amount of money NIH would be able to spend from its budget on sanctuary support, as per a law that The HSUS helped to pass 13 years ago, known as the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection (CHIMP) Act. There was no similar restriction on funding for the housing of chimps in laboratories, so NIH was faced with the prospect of being forced to keep retired chimpanzees in barren lab cages rather than spend the money more efficiently on higher-welfare sanctuaries; and this barrier not only threatened future retirement of chimpanzees, but funding for care of chimpanzees already retired at Chimp Haven in Louisiana, the national chimpanzee sanctuary.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives approved an amendment to the CHIMP Act that removed the barrier, and last night the Senate gave swift, final approval to the measure. The president is expected to sign the bill in the coming days. This decision came down to the wire – with sanctuary funding expected to run out today.

Meanwhile, The HSUS – thanks to its generous supporters – has donated more than $600,000 to chimp sanctuaries to support the movement of more chimps to these superior facilities. 

All in all, it’s an incredible example of what The HSUS brings to the animal movement: an ability to work with executive agencies as diverse as NIH and the Interior Department, to move legislation in Congress at a time when that body is viewed as dysfunctional, and partnering with hands-on groups (in this case, chimp sanctuaries) that are the right resting place for the retired animals.

We extend our thanks to so many of our supporters, but especially so to Jon Stryker, Audrey Burnand, and Jane Goodall. And we thank many lawmakers and other public officials, with a special shout-out to NIH director Francis Collins for his incredible leadership on the issue. Hats off to the many HSUS staff members who worked tirelessly on the issue for years – from the undercover investigator, to our communications team, to our Animal Research Issues department, to federal affairs and the animal protection litigation unit.

This is a good move for taxpayers, but it’s also a reclaiming of our humanity and our kinship with the great apes. They deserve not just survival, but peace – and now we are making that dream come true.

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