Stressful Research Makes It Impossible For Some Chimps To Recover

If you schedule only one activity this weekend, please make it time to read the Special Report about life for the chimpanzees at the federal primate facility in New Mexico. 


Investigative reporter Chris Adams from McClatchy Newspapers wrote an extraordinary three-part series that shows how years of experimental testing has taken a mental and physical toll on these intelligent animals.


About 180 chimpanzees live at the Alamogordo Primate Facility.  They were brought there a decade ago after enduring years of repeated liver biopsies, blood tests and other experiments as researchers tried to find cures for HIV, hepatitis, measles, polio and more.


The chimps are in the middle of a debate between the National Institutes of Health and animal rights activists.  The NIH wants to move the chimpanzees back into research labs while animal advocates want them retired to a sanctuary.


Chris Adams’ story took him to interviews with researchers and the animal rights community.  He sifted through thousands of pages of medical records that were obtained as a result of a lawsuit by In Defense of Animals. 


The outcome of his investigation revealed that even after ten years away from medical labs, many of the chimps never recover from the stress of research.


Adams talked about a chimp named Donovan who went from a friendly ape to one who beat his female cage-mate so badly he had to live alone.  Another chimpanzee named Lira was so stressed she chronically pulled out the hair on her body. And a third chimp named Bobby bit and mutilated his own arm because of severe depression.  Bobby sat day after day facing the wall of his cage, refusing to lie down to sleep. 


Adams said, “For the chimps, research can be lonely and debilitating; some end up with mental ailments including post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. Sometimes the symptoms will ease once the testing ends, but sometimes they stick with a chimp for life.”


“Chimpanzees depend on close physical contact. They love their comforts, and like to stretch out on a nice soft bed of grass. They make their own choices all the time,” famed chimp researcher Jane Goodall said. “None of these things can in any possible way be experienced by a laboratory chimp. I’ve been in quite a lot of medical research labs, and the truth is I wish I hadn’t, because they haunt me.”


When McClatchy Newspapers talked with John VandeBerg at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute he defended how the chimps are handled.  He explained how they are given room to move and play. 


VandeBerg even said if he were a chimp he would prefer to live at the lab rather than the Chimp Haven Sanctuary where activists would like to see the New Mexico chimps retire.


“You know, that’s an interesting question. I would rather be living here. … Chimp Haven is a wonderful facility — a beautiful facility, has beautiful outdoor areas. … So it’s a lovely facility. But what we have here is far better veterinary capacity.” He said the lab had vets on staff, full medical facilities and the ability to generate rapid test results. “We have medical capacity way beyond what Chimp Haven has, and if I were a chimpanzee I’d rather be here, where I could get the medical attention that I might need sometime in my life, especially as I got old.”


“The chimps,” he said, “even have televisions. They like to watch animal movies.”


However the research conducted by McClatchy Newspapers did not support VandeBerg’s observations. 


When Chris Adams found the records on Donovan, it showed that the chimpanzee was so fearful of the weekly blood tests and frequent biopsies run on him from 1997 to early 2001, he had to be shot with a tranquillizer dart each time before being moved into an exam room. 


By the time Donovan was six years-old he had 200 blood tests and 40 biopsies.


The reports on Lira showed that for more than two years she was housed alone after her testing procedure called for her to have an operation that exposed her liver.  She then received repeated injections directly into her liver and spine.  Later weekly biopsies were taken from her. 


The third chimp Bobby was used in at least eight studies and anesthetized more than 250 times.


The United States is the only country using chimpanzees for medical research.  Earlier this year the University of California-San Diego reviewed the research and found that chimpanzees and humans experience diseases differently, so ultimately medical research on chimps isn’t very helpful.


They concluded in the Annual Review of Pathology: “Humans appear to have several surprising differences in the severity and/or incidence of diseases and pathologies that cannot be explained by environmental factors.”


TAKE ACTION: Help protect chimpanzees from medical research by signing the petition for passage of the Great Ape Protection Act.


Click Here to read the three-part series by Chris Adams.


Creative Commons - SBCTB


William C
William Cabout a year ago


W. C
W. Cabout a year ago

Thank you for caring.

Elisa Faulkner- Uriarte
Elisa F5 years ago

Very, very sad. Thanks for sharing.

LMj Sunshine
James merritt jr5 years ago


LMj Sunshine
James merritt jr5 years ago


Nina Abernathy
Nina Abernathy5 years ago

Auswicz for chimps. When an animal self mutilates, it is being driven insane. How can that be justified? Vandeberg said the chimps would prefer rompng on concrete and steel instead of on grass and under sunshine and trees?? How stupid does he think we are?? Researcher mentality is frikken scary. It's that steady paychek they are after. Chimps can't speak for themselves.

Bu M.
Bu M5 years ago

Researchers have no heart nor feeling nor compassion. They should be subjected to these experiments, maybe then they would feel the pain.

irene w.
Irene whitehead6 years ago

These people are without feeling. They are inhumane and deserve to be punished for the cruelty they serve out every day without thought for the hurt physically and mentally that they give so freely. May they suffer likewise at some period in their lives. Frankensteins all of them.

kaye p.
Kaye Porter6 years ago

The cruelty continues, most of us sign every Petition available.

antonia maestre
antonia maestre6 years ago

“All of the arguments to prove man's superiority cannot shatter this hard fact: in suffering, the animals are our equals”.
-Peter Singer