Why Are “Retired” Chimps Still Waiting in Labs for Their Freedom?
Following a long battle for their freedom, chimpanzees suffering in labs got a victory when the National Institutes of Health (NIH) formally announced it would be retiring most of the ones it owns or funds. After lifetimes spent in cages, they would be free to lay in the grass, climb trees, build nests, form bonds with each other and enjoy the freedom of choice at sanctuaries.
However, the announcement was tempered not only by the decision to leave 50 behind, but also by concerns about how their retirement would be funded. Despite the widespread support to get these chimps out of cages and give them the retirement they deserve in a suitable habitat, their long-awaited freedom has been lost in fights over spending bills in Congress.
In 2000, Congress passed the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection (CHIMP) Act, which mandated the establishment of a national sanctuary system to provide lifetime care for federally owned or supported chimpanzees who were retired or no longer needed for research. Unfortunately, the cap on the $30 million that was allocated for their care at the time will be reached this month.
If the cap isn’t lifted, when it is reached the NIH won’t have the funds to relocate chimps who are retired or pay for the care of more than 100 chimps who are already at the National Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Louisiana, which is operated by Chimp Haven. The NIH currently covers 75 percent of their care there.
Now, 60 chimpanzees that have been designated “permanently ineligible for biomedical research,” are waiting at the New Iberia Research Center for Congress to act on their behalf, and there are still more than 200 waiting for their turn to follow.
At the end of September Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced the CHIMP Act Amendments of 2013 (S. 1561), which will allow the NIH to exceed the cap and shift money already allocated for their care to caring for those in retirement through 2023. Moving these chimps from labs into sanctuaries isn’t just an ethically sound decision, but it will also save money in the long run because caring for them at sanctuaries is less expensive than caring for them in labs.
So far, the bill is getting bipartisan support. It was approved by the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and was passed unanimously through the full Senate last week. It is now being considered in the House.
“Now that the Senate has acted, I hope that the House of Representatives will quickly take up this important bill to ensure that NIH can use resources it already has on hand to ensure these chimps’ well-being now and in the future,” said Harkin in a press release.
Chimp Haven, has already started construction needed to retire the remaining 60 chimps who are waiting at New Iberia and has been fundraising through its Road to Chimp Haven campaign since 2012 with the intent to significantly expand its capacity to take in more chimps in the future.
Please sign and share the petition asking your representative to support this important bill for chimpanzees.
Photo credit: Thinkstock