In a huge victory for chimpanzees being used in research, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has formally announced that it will be retiring most of the chimps it owns or funds.
The announcement means that hundreds of chimpanzees will now be allowed to live free from harm, after what has been decades in labs for some, and follows years of campaigning by animal advocacy organizations and caring members of the public who have spoken out on their behalf. More than 12,500 public comments were submitted to the NIH, while a Care2 petition asking the NIH’s Director Francis Collins to retire chimps gathered more than 21,000 signatures.
In 2011, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a report that concluded most research on chimpanzees in biomedical and behavioral research was unnecessary and unethical and made recommendations on their future use, which was completed at the request of the NIH and in response to a congressional inquiry.
Following that announcement, the NIH tasked the Council of Councils Working Group with making recommendations for using chimpanzees in research that were in line with the IOM’s criteria. The Working Group made 28 recommendations, which included standards for their social and physical welfare, requirements that they live in groups of at least seven, each have a minimum of 1,000 square feet, room to climb, access to the outdoors in all weather and opportunities to forage for food, in addition to recommending retiring all but 50 chimpanzees currently being used in research.
The NIH will be accepting most of the recommendations, which means retiring 310 chimps, while keeping 50 for possible future research. Although experiments will be restricted, some hope that any proposed won’t pass muster. The NIH stated that the need to keep 50 chimps will be revisited every five years and they may eventually find that it’s unnecessary to keep them at all in the future. One recommendation that won’t be followed is the requirement to provide 1,000 square feet of space per chimp.
NIH Director Francis Collins said in a statement that “greatly reducing their use in biomedical research is scientifically sound and the right thing to do.”
According to the NIH, the 310 chimps will be moving to Chimp Haven, the only federal sanctuary, or other sanctuaries over the next few years, but the process will be slow as current projects are ended and it is decided where the chimps will go.
In 2000, Congress passed the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection (CHIMP) Act, which mandated the establishment of a sanctuary system to provide lifetime care for chimpanzees who are retired from the biomedical research industry.
However, concerns have been raised previously about funding for Chimp Haven because the cap on $30 million that was allocated for it in 2000 will be hit this year, but the NIH stated that it will be working with Congress to lift the cap on the amount of resources it can put towards funding retired chimps in the Federal Sanctuary System and is reportedly seeking an additional $3 million in funding for 2014.
While the announcement has been largely well received, some are still disappointed over the decision to leave 50 chimps behind.
“Though we praise NIH’s decision to retire most of its chimpanzees, the decision to keep a reserve population flies in the face of scientific evidence establishing how chimpanzees have not been, are not, and would not be needed,” said New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS) President Theodora Capaldo, EdD.
Unfortunately, this decision also only applies to federally funded chimpanzees and not those who are used by private companies. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed listing all chimpanzees as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, which would effectively end experiments that don’t directly benefit chimpanzees themselves. The FWS will be accepting public comments here until August 12.
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