The End of Great Ape Testing? NIH to Retire 110 Research Chimps

The primates will soon live out their golden years in peace on a sanctuary.

110 research chimps get a new lease on life as they go into retirement, but what does it mean for the future of great ape testing in the United States? (Photo: Joel Sartore/Getty Images)

It’s going to be a golden old age for 110 research chimpanzees who will be retired from the National Institutes of Health testing facilities. Over the next year, more than a hundred of the NIH’s 563 research chimp population will be moved to a sanctuary called Chimp Haven and to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, where they will not be used for any sort of testing at all.

The United States is the only country still conducts invasive medical research on great apes, despite a significant report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluding that nearly all such animal testing is unnecessary.

The chimps’ retirement signals a larger movement to withdraw chimpanzees from medical research on in the United States. According to NIH director Francis S. Collins, “This is a significant step in winding down NIH’s investment in chimpanzee research based on the way science has evolved and our great sensitivity to the special nature of these remarkable animals, our closest relatives.”

The New Iberia Research Center, which houses the NIH chimps, chose not to seek funding from NIH for its chimpanzee program past August 2013, allowing NIH the perfect opportunity to retire the 110 chimps.

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Retirement may be coming not a second too soon for the chimpanzees. New Iberia has recently come under severe scrutiny for a couple of incidents in which the center may or may not have violated terms of the Animal Welfare Act.

In 2009 the Human Society of the United States released video of chimps shot with tranquilizer darts and falling violently from tables. The deaths of three macaque monkeys and an eight-year-old chimp are also under investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Many of the chimps subjected to testing have gone crazy. Wayne A. Pacelle, president and chief executive of the U.S. Humane Society, said some of the chimps were “obviously emotionally disturbed from long-term isolation and throwing themselves around cages.”

However, 110 lucky chimps can live the remainder of their lives in peace. Chimp Haven in Keithville, Louisiana, is outfitted with lush habitats, devoted caretakers, and plenty of games and activities to engage the sophisticated mental facilities of chimpanzees. Ten of the 110 retiring chimps with join their own kind at Chimp Haven. The rest will live out their lives at the research center in Texas, but will no longer live in fear of testing.

We hope the relief of hundreds of other research chimps will come on the heels of these first 110. The United States is the only country that still conducts invasive medical research on great apes, despite a significant report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluding that nearly all such animal testing is unnecessary. As a result of the IOM report, Collins ceased all new NIH-supported chimp research, and just this month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced its withdrawal from great ape testing after concluding hepatitis C vaccine studies. In Congress, the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act, which would ban all ape research in the U.S., is gaining momentum.

It’s time for a new era in medical research—one that doesn’t sacrifice some of our closest animal relatives for our own improvement, especially when it’s become virtually unnecessary. To the 110 retiring chimps, TakePart wishes you the most restful golden years.

Is the retirement of 110 chimps from testing enough? Or do you think more needs to be done immediately? How long do you think it will take for all animals to be safe from testing?

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