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All the Government’s Chimpanzees to Be Retired to Chimp Haven

Chimpanzees at Chimp Haven

In a change of plan from what was announced four months ago, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has decided to release all 110 of its “research-ineligible” chimpanzees to sanctuary care – most likely at Chimp Haven in Louisiana.

Originally, the plan was to send just 10 of the chimpanzees to Chimp Haven, and to retire the other 100 to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.

Those initial 10 are currently held at the infamous New Iberia Research Center (NIRC), which was the subject of a nine-month investigation by the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) in 2009, in which it revealed “routine and unlawful mistreatment of hundreds of chimpanzees and other primates.”

The HSUS’ videotape evidence shows severe distress of primates in isolation: They engage in self-mutilation by tearing gaping wounds into their arms and legs … Routine procedures, such as the use of powerful and painful dart guns and frightening squeeze cages for sedation, are shown causing acute psychological distress to chimpanzees and monkeys. Infant monkeys scream as they are forcibly removed from their mothers so that tubes can be forced down their throats. Altogether, the investigation reveals animals forced to endure anxiety and misery behind the razor wire of the research facility.

Primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall has also spoken out about the NIRC:

“In no lab I have visited have I seen so many chimpanzees exhibit such intense fear. The screaming I heard when chimpanzees were being forced to move toward the dreaded needle in their squeeze cages was, for me, absolutely horrifying.”

As for the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, which was going to receive the other 100 chimpanzees, it is not a sanctuary at all, but rather a research laboratory with a few outdoor compounds. Like the NIRC, Texas Biomed is a highly secretive organization that has come under scrutiny by animal protection groups and the major media, including PBS and NBC. So the revision of the plan is welcome news indeed.

The new plan will involve a major expansion for Chimp Haven in caring for an additional 110 large primates, who will be being moved over the next 12-15 months. New housing alone will cost $2.3 million, which the government will not cover. According to Chimp Haven:

To help house many of the incoming chimpanzees, Chimp Haven has to raise $5 million for construction and the lifetime care of the chimpanzees.  The sanctuary has established a dedicated fund called The Road to Chimp Haven Campaign.   For administrative reasons, the NIH is not able to provide construction funding, but will provide 75 percent of the cost to care for the chimpanzees.

Large contributions have already come in from the New England Anti-Vivisection Society ($100,000), the HSUS ($500,000), and the National Anti-Vivisection Society ($25,000). You can donate to the project here.

A year ago, In December 2011, the NIH accepted the recommendations of an expert panel of the Institute of Medicine to cut way back on, although not completely eliminate, using chimpanzees in medical research.

According to the Nature News Blog, the NIH continues to fund invasive research on 115 chimpanzees who are not owned by the government at Texas Biomed, and another 167 at the Michale E. Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research in Bastrop, Texas. A working group within the agency is now re-evaluating all NIH-supported chimpanzee projects in light of proposed IOM standards for “scientific necessity”, and is expected to report its findings on 22 January.

Overall, the good news is that the use of chimpanzees in medical research is on the way out. Not so good is that the vivisection industry is working hard to ensure that it doesn’t end altogether.