What Happens to Lab Chimps After the Testing Stops?

We often discuss the cruel and unethical treatment of animals at medical testing facilities, but what about the long-term physical and psychological effects on the animals involved?

Over the past decade hundreds of chimpanzees have been ‘retired’ from U.S. and European animal testing facilities, with the vast majority ending up in primate sanctuaries. While many people are under the impression that this is the end of the physical and mental suffering and the start of a new life of freedom for these chimps, the reality is much more complex than that.

Laboratory Life for Primates

Before they are finally released from their life of biomedical research, chimpanzees and other primates are forced to endure a lifetime of unimaginable deprivation, discomfort, segregation and suffering, sometimes beginning from the moment they are born and taken away from their mothers.

Chimps are subjected to painful testing procedures which sometimes involve physical abuse such as mutilation, chemical burns or intentional viral diseases, as well as psychogical damage from sensory deprivation or social isolation. The welfare of these animals is secondary to getting scientific data as this is the entire reason that these animals are being bred and kept in these facilities.

The mental state of primates in testing facilities is something which has been the center of many animal welfare investigations, but most people are under the impression that this horrendous ordeal is over once the animals are finally released to sanctuaries. Sadly this is not the case and a happily ever after story is rare for ex-lab chimps.

A First Taste of Freedom or Another Scary Ordeal?

As is discussed by Allyson Bennett from Speaking of Research, it is often portrayed that chimps arriving at sanctuaries get to enjoy the “dirt and grass under their feet, sunshine on their faces for the first time in their entire lives because they have come from laboratories where they have only known barren, concrete environments.” However, this often just a sensationalist portrayal of the situation.

Chimpanzees are extremely sensitive creatures, and the mental terror inflicted upon them in testing facilities often leads them to develop anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses including compulsive or irrational behavior.

For the chimps, being moved to another captive facility brings with it its own set of problems. Often their lack of social skills, fear of human interaction, and damaged mental state make the transition to a completely new environment a very scary ordeal.

Researchers studying chimps released to a sanctuary in the Netherlands, have been able to observe the long-term behaviors of ex-lab chimps, and they were extremely surprised by what they saw.

Abnormal Behavior Observed in Almost All Ex-Lab Chimps

Before the study commenced, researchers predicted that the chimps would “initially display behavioural signs of stress and increased abnormal behaviour,” but that the “relocation was expected to have positive effects on social behaviour and to reduce the performance of abnormal behaviour in these chimpanzees.”

What they actually observed was that the chimpanzees displayed “less aggressive and less submissive behaviour and more allogrooming,” which was seen as a positive sign, as they were seeking to make relationships and find companionship. However, alongside this was something much more worrying, as the chimps “also performed significantly more abnormal behaviour.”

The study concluded by saying that although relocation to a sanctuary setting did allow chimps to begin nurturing relationships which they had previously been denied, the long-term psychological damage caused by their treatment in testing facilities meant that they required long-term rehabilitation programs with specialist therapeutic care.

For an ex-lab chimp, moving to a sanctuary is just another scary and fear-inducing ordeal which is not the end of the suffering, but the start of a long road to physical and psychological recovery, a process which sadly many chimps will never finish as their experiences at the hands of those in testing facilities continue to haunt them forever. 

Photo Credit: We Animals | Jo-Anne McArthur


Mark Donner
Mark Donner2 years ago

Any time you see a sadist in a lab coat saying he is "educated" or what he is doing is "helping" somebody, spit in his ugly criminal face. I wouldn't allow that psychopath to enter my neighborhood

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell3 years ago


Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell3 years ago


Virginia Abreu de Paula

This article is too negative. Pass the impression it is not worthwhile to remove them to the santuaries. What do they suggest then? To kill them? Come on, I don't believe people are so stupid thinking they would not have problems after so many years of suffering. People in the santuaries has to know about that. But they try their best. I am sure they prefer the lnew life than staying where they were. Only...don't give up about recovering them. If they still have problems at least people are doing the best they can. This article didn't give any hope. I didn't like it at all.

Shari R.
Shari F3 years ago

Testing on great apes is illegal in Britain. Maybe America could consider following suit?

Sherri S.
Sherri S3 years ago

So sad that these chimps must go through this unending torment. It breaks my heart.

Julia Cabrera-Woscek

No testing using animals. We need to start testing on humans for human consumption products. I think it is a fair and square way of life. If we are too scare to test on humans then maybe product is not that good to begin with.

Joan Harvey
Joan Harvey3 years ago

We need to stop all biomedical research on animals. They don't deserve this. But they do deserve the opportunity to heal once they are released from these horrible places. Sadly, sanctuaries are the only place these beautiful Chimps can go and have any chance at normalcy. Some thrive in the environment, and some take years to come out of their shells, if they ever do. Please let your voice be heard to stop subjecting all animals to biomedical research.

Fred L.
Fred L3 years ago

Stop testing on non-human animals. Test on convicted felons, with incentives such as more yard and TV time, better food, etc. And of course these liberated chimpanzees will still suffer the effects of all that abuse in the labs, but it's better to be maladjusted in a sanctuary than suffering in a research facility.