Wednesday was a good day for the 950 federally owned chimpanzees at the heart of the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act. The Senate committee overseeing the bill voted in its favor.
“The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works this morning gave its approval to S. 810, the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act, marking a major step forward for the legislation to end invasive experiments on chimpanzees and to retire federally-owned chimps to sanctuaries,” said Michael Markarian president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.
The legislation can now move to the full Senate for consideration. This is the first time any version of the bill has received approval in the Senate since it was first introduced in 2008.
“The House was waiting for some kind of movement in the Senate and now they’ve seen it. This is a wonderful event for people who have been tracking this legislation,” says Elizabeth Kucinich, the director of government affairs at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, an animal rights group in Washington, DC.
The bill would phase out invasive experimentation on chimpanzees and retire the chimps owned by the National Institutes of Health. It would also prohibit the use of U.S. dollars to support great ape research outside the country.
The nearly 1,000 government owned chimpanzees are currently housed in five U.S. laboratories. While most of them are not being used in active experiments, they have been kept confined in cages at the labs, sometimes for decades, on the misguided belief by a few scientists that they may be needed for some catastrophic research in the future.
To ease their concerns, Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., who head the committee, drafted a modification to S. 810. The contingency allows invasive research on great apes in the event that a “new, emerging, or reemerging disease requires their use.”
Brian Hare, chimpanzee researcher and associate professor at Duke University did not think this compromise was necessary. Prior to Wednesday’s vote he urged the committee to pass the bill as it was originally written.
“As professor of evolutionary anthropology and cognitive neuroscience at Duke University, and director of the Hominoid Psychology Research Group, I lead researchers studying chimpanzees in African sanctuaries, the wild and U.S. zoos. The majority of chimpanzee researchers are like us and do not conduct research in the obsolete U.S. chimpanzee laboratories. Research groups like mine exist at Duke, Emory, U Penn, UCLA, UCSD, Michigan U, Yale, and Harvard to name a few,” said Dr. Hare.
Markarian commented about the way chimps are housed in labs and the cost to U.S. citizens. “It’s inhumane to keep these highly intelligent and social creatures in small cages and use them in invasive experiments, and it’s fiscally reckless to continue to throw taxpayer dollars at this issue with all the concern about reining in our nation’s spiraling federal deficit.”
The U.S. has a national sanctuary system for retired chimps that includes a network of private chimpanzee sanctuaries, but it has never been implemented. Markarian said the plan would save taxpayers an estimated $25 million each year.
Supporters of the bill are optimistic that Wednesday’s vote will generate enough momentum for it to become law before the end of the year.
Photo Credit: FuturePresent