The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced on Wednesday that it will begin retiring most of its chimpanzees from medical research. The chimps will be placed in sanctuaries.
The announcement was another step by the health industry for ending biomedical research on chimpanzees. While most of the primates will go to sanctuaries, some will be kept for possible future research.
The NIH decision is not a surprise, as it has been expected for a while. Two weeks ago, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service launched a proposal to declare captive chimpanzees endangered. Along with the proposal, the NIH decision also follows recommendations issued by an agency advisory group.
However, while most chimpanzees will be retired, the decision will not completely end biomedical research on NIH chimps. While 310 chimps will be retired to sanctuaries in the next few years, the group will keep 50 at the site in case there is an need to use them for research involving human health.
NIH Director Doctor Francis Collins explained of the decision, “These amazing animals have taught us a great deal already.” The decision to retire almost all medical research chimpanzees also came after the Institute of Medicine decided two years ago that the use of chimps for invasive medical research is not justified.
Any future medical research at the NIH involving chimps will only be done if it cannot be performed any other way. It will now only be allowed under special circumstances with the approval of a special advisory board. The NIH will revisit the subject in five years to decide whether the remaining 50 chimpanzees should be retired as well.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, celebrated the decision, calling it “an historic moment and major turning point for chimpanzees in laboratories.” Some of the chimps to be retired have been at medical research facilities for decades.
While the chimpanzees will be retired to a national sanctuary system operated by Chimp Haven in northwest Louisiana, the NIH must first secure funding to expand the facility and make sure it can take care of the large amount of primates.
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