Despite efforts to thwart the process, NIH says it will retire chimpanzees to sanctuary

By on October 22, 2018 with 7 Comments

The National Institutes of Health says it remains committed to retiring nearly 255 federally owned or supported chimpanzees to a sanctuary. This announcement, made late last week, is a favorable development in a long-running, and sometimes rocky, saga that has been unfolding ever since we succeeded in making it unlawful to conduct invasive research on chimpanzees in 2015. But the struggle isn’t over.

This issue matters so much to me, and that’s why, in July, I urged you to reach out to the NIH to say that you want these chimpanzees retired to sanctuary as soon as possible. The NIH received more than 4,000 public comments, and on Thursday, NIH director Dr. Francis Collins stated that “NIH remains fully committed to retiring all chimpanzees it owns or supports to the Federal sanctuary unless relocation would severely or irreversibly accelerate deterioration of the chimpanzee’s physical or behavioral health.”

At this time, the government-owned or -supported chimpanzees are being held at three laboratories. Regrettably, a number of parties in the research community have been trying to stop these animals from being transferred to Chimp Haven, the national sanctuary for chimpanzees in Louisiana. The laboratories have a financial interest in holding on to the chimpanzees because they receive funding through government grants and contracts to care for them. Representatives of these institutions and a few allies have lately been claiming that many of the chimps shouldn’t be transported due to health issues and that, instead, they should remain in their facilities.

The report accompanying Dr. Collins’ statement made clear the agency’s commitment that chimpanzees will continue to be moved to Chimp Haven without delay as a new process for assessing chimpanzee health is implemented. This new assessment tool was recommended by an NIH-created working group that, in May, emphasized that as many chimpanzees as possible should be released to sanctuary. The tool can be used by the NIH to assess the health status of each chimpanzee, and make it possible to quickly retire healthy chimpanzees to sanctuary. Only those few who are extremely sick and would suffer from a severe deterioration in health from being transported would be held back.

We also welcome the fact that the laboratories themselves will no longer be left to decide whether the chimpanzees in their custody remain confined in the laboratories or are retired to sanctuary. If the responsible veterinarian at a laboratory wants to keep a chimpanzee at the facility, a final decision on the animal’s fate will be made by an independent panel.

While the news is generally good, we have remaining concerns with the process that will require our watchful eye and engagement. For instance, we are disappointed that the NIH has chosen not to include a primate behaviorist or ethicist or a veterinarian with sanctuary experience on the independent panel. Instead, the panel is made up of three of NIH’s own primate veterinarians who will likely have spent at least part of their careers working with primates in a laboratory setting.

In the near term, the NIH will need to operate with transparency and in a timely manner to assure the American public that it is trying to do what is truly best for these animals. We urge the agency to keep the public updated on panel appointees, on changes to its assessment protocols for the animals, and any decisions surrounding the fate of individual chimpanzees.

The fight to end chimpanzee use in experimentation has been waged for a long time, too long quite frankly, and I want to see this final challenge resolved the right way. The end of chimpanzee research and the news that these animals, who have spent a lifetime in captivity, would be retired to sanctuary was welcomed with enthusiasm by most Americans. For the chimpanzees’ sake, and for our own, we need to do all that we can now to ensure that these animals, held in labs with taxpayer funds, will finally get the necessary care and attention they deserve in retirement.

Animal Research and Testing, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. John Bachman says:

    Can you tell us where the remaining chimps are? I know SNPRC and perhaps TBRI in San Antonio has some but cannot find if true and how many.

  2. Gabrielle Tanner says:

    Lemsip Florida bought Monkies who had been taught sign language, – much to the distress of students who taught them-and experimented on them. When they were released they put one in a sanctuary on its own (stupid) he exhibited severe distress, and when reunited with the student who had taught him sign language, he attacked her. ANIMALS DO NOT FORGET. THEY NEED LOVE AND COMPANIONSHIP JUST LIKE HUMANS…

  3. Chimp Advocate says:

    The opposition is not for financial gain, it is to gain peace of mind for the chimpanzees and their caretakers. As an advocate for them, I hope that those facilities which have indoors/outdoor facilities, enrichment and professional care that these remaining chimps, who are fully retired from medical research, are allowed to retire in place with their established familial groups. I’m sure the remaining centers would love to give you a tour and provide some additional context to address your assertions in this article, please reach out to me if you would be interested!

  4. Tina Brandon Abbatangelo says:

    Has the federal government offered financial assistance to the many sanctuaries that have taken on these beautiful primates? I’m hoping they have because many of these non profit sanctuaries depend on donations to stay operating. It’s not cheap to keep these animals fed. Plus many have medical conditions due to their research past.

  5. Ranay Peck, M.S.Ed., M.S.P.S. says:

    I feel very strongly these magnificent animals need to be released to sanctuaries. This is no life for any animal to be kept in a cage like a criminal. These are very intelligent animals that do best with their own kind and will die an early death if not released. As a wildlife rehabilitator for over twenty years, I have seen how cage like affects animals and it is not pleasant. For the sake of the animals and their mental health, they ALL need to be released to sanctuaries where they can outlive their life with grass beneath their feet and open sky above them. Also, they are very social animals and need to be with their own kind.

    • Chimp Advocate says:

      Several of the facilities are already providing this to their chimps with outdoor enclosures, maintaining social groups and ongoing enrichment.

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