Even after an HSUS exposé of the disturbing mistreatment of chimpanzees at a Louisiana university research facility more than two years ago, the federal government continues to misuse millions of Americans’ tax dollars for invasive research on chimpanzees.
New federal legislation would phase out the invasive research and testing of chimpanzees and retire 500 federally owned chimpanzees to permanent sanctuary. Sens. Maria Cantwell, Susan Collins, and Bernie Sanders; and Reps. Roscoe Bartlett, Steve Israel, Dave Reichert, James Langevin, and Edolphus Towns, as well as nearly 40 other lawmakers, joined as original sponsors of the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act.
Our senior director of animal research issues, Kathleen Conlee, has seen firsthand how primates suffer in laboratories and when used in research, and how sanctuaries can provide chimpanzees and other animals the special care and environment that they need. She recently wrote about her time working at a primate research lab and later at a great ape sanctuary:
When I entered the primate research field, I truly believed that whenever a primate was used for research, it must have been necessary to advance human health. However, over time I realized that I was mistaken and that this system was truly broken. My reason for working in the field changed: I couldn’t bear to leave the animals behind.
For seven years, I worked for a for-profit research and breeding facility, where the animals were a commodity. Universities, companies, and government agencies would call in their “orders” and I had to decide which monkeys to send—20 babies to study what happens when they are deprived of their mothers, 30 adults for dental research, and the list went on and on.
Trying to meet the basic needs of the primates would often become a fight. I would sneak pain medications to animals who desperately needed them. When I asked to have a water line moved so that a sick, elderly monkey could reach it to drink, I was scoffed at.
Some of the animals were severely psychologically disturbed. One monkey would tear gaping wounds in his flesh when he saw something unfamiliar—even something as benign as an apple.
I was horrified to see this suffering, but unfortunately it wasn’t unique. Chimpanzees in labs are also subjected to terrifying procedures, and can be kept alone in small and barren cages for months on end. Chimpanzee babies are torn from their mothers at a young age. As a mother myself, I can’t even imagine how traumatic this would be.
When I left the laboratory, I made a promise to myself that I would share the stories of the animals I knew and the plight of all the other primates in laboratories—and work tirelessly to protect them.
I later had the opportunity to work at the Center for Great Apes, an amazing sanctuary in Florida that cares for rescued chimpanzees and orangutans. It was there that I learned firsthand about the incredible intelligence and complex emotional lives of chimpanzees—and they certainly gained my respect. They form close relationships and love to play, wrestle with, and tickle each other.
The sanctuary gave them the freedom to sit outside, rain or shine, or cuddle up with a friend in the nests that they made with their blankets on a cool day. I also learned the hard way that they will play tricks on humans and wait for you to drop your keys or cell phone, or make any kind of mistake that they could take advantage of.
For all the chimpanzees still in laboratories, I will keep my promise and continue to fight until this invasive research comes to an end and they gain the sanctuary they deserve. I urge Congress to do what’s right for these animals.