Taking Care Of The Old Timer…Chimps

24 Jan

Chimp and BabeI wonder who had the better life – the baby, or the chimp?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced, a bit misleadingly, that it will end chimp testing, and send the veterans to a comfortable retirement.

It has been a long time coming, but it looks like the vast majority of medical research performed on chimps in the United States is about to come to an end. A report from an internal working group was approved yesterday by the National Institutes of Health — and pending a final review by NIH director Francis Collins, the committee’s recommendations will see nearly all of the 451 chimps currently held in government research facilities retired from active duty and relocated to federal sanctuaries. But as the new rules make clear, government scientists are still not ready to go the distance and put a halt to all research done on chimps.


As we reported last month, many of the retired chimps will be moved to Chimp Haven, a federal sanctuary in Louisiana.

Of the 451 chimps held by the NIH, 282 are available for research, and 169 are inactive. Once the report is approved, the fate of the remaining chimps will be determined.

All this said, the Humane Society claims that another 350 chimps are currently being studied by universities or private companies. Consequently, the Humane Society, along with other groups, is lobbying for legislation to limit chimp research across the board.

The only problem is, that the Humane Society has objected to living conditions for the chimps who do remain for testing – government programs never end, it seems.

The report also proposes standards for the social and physical welfare of N.I.H. chimps, including requirements that they live in groups of at least seven, have a minimum of 1,000 square feet per chimp, room to climb, access to the outdoors in all weather and opportunities to forage for food. “Not a single laboratory in the United States meets these recommendations,” Ms. Conlee said.

Within five years, at the latest, any N.I.H. chimpanzees that are approved for use in research will need to have housing that meets the new criteria.

Justin Goodman, the laboratory investigations department director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, issued a statement supporting the recommendations, saying, in part, “At last, our federal government understands: a chimpanzee should no more live in a laboratory than a human should live in a phone booth.”

Dr. K. C. Kent Lloyd of the University of California, Davis, a co-chairman of the working group that prepared the report, said in a hearing Tuesday that was streamed online that his group made field trips to seven chimpanzee facilities, including laboratories and sanctuaries.

He said the group was asked to consider what living conditions were appropriate for chimpanzees, the species closest to humans and highly intelligent and social. Even if experiments are approved in the future as being necessary for human health and undoable in any other way than using chimps, he said the animals must have “environments that not only allow but promote the full range of natural chimp behavior.”

That means room for social groups, and, Dr. Lloyd added, “No chimp should live alone for an extended period of time.”

Obviously, this is a smaller sample, but, man to chimp, does NIH care as much for human living standards? I put moral responsibility over cold numbers, but presumably the NIH programs will provide a perpetual number of old and broken chimps that require special care for the rest of their lives. How can we just agree to do right by the chimps, and not do the same for veterans or seniors – without strings? Are chimps just cheaper for the feel-good?

I fear, that chimp youngster never had to agonize over these issues, but that baby did. And, even if that chimp helped that man live longer, it was a mixed blessing.


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