Today, we received a telling sign that the United States will soon see the end of invasive experiments on chimpanzees, bringing to a close a long, sad, and inhumane chapter in the history of American science and public health. Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), spoke with me this morning to tell me about NIH’s plan to move all of the government-owned chimpanzees out of the New Iberia Research Center—the site of a 2009 HSUS undercover investigation that exposed bad human behavior and poor conditions for chimpanzees.
The NIH has decided that all 110 federally-owned chimpanzees will be removed from New Iberia by August of 2013. The agency plans to move 10 chimpanzees to Chimp Haven (a sanctuary in Keithville, La.) and approximately 100 others to the Southwest National Primate Research Center—a laboratory in San Antonio, Texas. NIH will be classifying all of these chimpanzees as “permanently ineligible” for use in research, so there’s no risk that these chimps moved to Texas would be placed back into research.
This is an exciting and welcome step in the right direction. The intended transfer will directly affect the lives of about one-fifth of all government-owned chimps in labs. But the long-term solution is to get every last one of the chimps out of labs and to provide these animals with richly deserved permanent retirement in sanctuaries. Dr. Collins welcomed our offer to work with the agency on creating greater sanctuary capacity. NIH currently has a working group examining the future of chimpanzee research and the fate of all government-supported chimpanzees. We will continue to push the working group to recommend that every government-owned chimpanzee be retired to sanctuary.
We’ve been campaigning on behalf of these chimpanzees for a few years now, and the pivotal moment in this debate was the release last December of a report by the Institute of Medicine (commissioned by Dr. Collins) concluding that the use of chimps is “largely unnecessary” for human health purposes and that there are validated alternatives for the types of experiments they are now subjected to.
We hope that Dr. Collins’ announcement will give added momentum to the effort in Congress to enact the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act by the end of the year. This legislation, which has broad bipartisan support, would phase out invasive research on chimpanzees and retire government-owned chimpanzees to sanctuary—while saving taxpayers about $25 million per year.
Chimps are our closest living relatives. We can thrive as a species without subjecting them to invasive experiments. And by getting them out of labs and ending invasive experiments, we’ll make a greater claim for the humanity of our species.