NIH research chimps will no longer be used in medical experiments. The animals will live out the rest of their days in a forest-like setting after residing at a research laboratory.
NPR reports that hundreds of research chimps were retired in 2013, but 50 stayed behind in the event of a public health crisis. They’ll now be safe from any potential research and transferred to a federal sanctuary when room permits.
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, says that a point has been reached in the United States that “invasive research on chimpanzees is no longer something that makes sense.”
Most of the NIH research chimps were used in studies on genetics and behavior. In recent years, even science experts have decided that studies primates were once a significant part of are no longer necessary.
The Associated Press reports that about 300 government-owned chimps have already been released to Chimp Haven, a federally-approved sanctuary in Louisiana.
Animal welfare organizations are elated to see this new development on the NIH research chimps. There are many willing to assist NIH in finding sanctuary space for the animals.
“We are overjoyed by this decision,” said Kathleen Conlee of the Humane Society of the United States.
— Popular Science (@PopSci) November 19, 2015
On the other side of this story, researchers aren’t so sure that retiring the chimpanzees is such a good idea.
President of Foundation for Biomedical Research Frankie Trull wonders if this is really in the public’s health interest. Trull says that Ebola kills chimps in the wild and questions if creating a vaccine for wild primates will be held back without chimps being available for testing.
Chimps were key when testing was conducted for medicines that astronauts needed for going into space. As time went along, they were used less and less, however. This was before a 2011 Institute of Medicine report demonstrated that science had reached a point of not requiring this research. It was then that the NIH agreed and started cutting back on using research chimps.
There are some labs that use chimps for “non-invasive behavioral research.”
Other factors helped in retiring the NIH research chimps. As Dr. Collins noted last summer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed research chimps on the endangered species list. This amounted to researchers being less inclined to use the animals in experiments.
Collins addressed the Ebola concern by stating that they’re already tested on monkeys and that this is something that won’t change.
“We still feel that research on other non-human primates is essential for human health,” Collins said.
CNN adds in its coverage of the NIH retiring research chimps that it had been “woefully behind” in phasing out the animals. Researchers would intentionally infect the primates with hepatitis and HIV. Many died waiting to be released from the research facility where they could live out their final days at Chimp Haven.
Chimp Haven must be expanded in order to accommodate hundreds of new chimps. Cathy Spraetz, director of Chimp Haven in Louisiana, says it’s the only federally-approved chimp sanctuary in the nation.
Spraetz says that a campaign for funding will launch in early 2016. The government might help pay for part of it as well.
The first set of retired NIH research chimps is expected to arrive at the Louisiana facility by the end of this year.
[Photo by Sue Ogrocki/AP Photo]