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After 22 Years in a Laboratory, Will Camillo Be Retired?


This is the most you’re going to see of Camillo the chimpanzee – at least for the moment. When the San Antonio Express-News asked the Texas Biomedical Research Institute for an interview, along with a photo of the 22-year-old veteran of vivisection, Texas Biomed simply told them: “No interviews, no photos.”

The question was a fairly simple one: Will Camillo be among the government-“owned” chimps who are expected to be retired as part of a plan to bring an end to much, but not all, of the medical and scientific research on chimpanzees that’s paid for by the federal government – including the 115 chimps at Texas Biomed.

Over the next 22 years, he underwent at least 163 medical procedures, including anesthesia, blood draws and biopsies.We’re all very pleased by this development, which has now been several years in the making, with reports prepared by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) Institute of Medicine and its Council of Councils and other bodies who need to sign off on such changes.

But will Camillo be among the “most of the chimpanzees” or will he be left behind as one of 50 to be kept in what Texas Biomed describes as a kind of “library”? That was how Texas Biomed’s director Dr. John VandeBerg has described the animals he wants to keep caged up just in case he wants to experiment on them at some future time.

Camillo has become the poster boy for the pressure from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and other groups who want the NIH to go a step further than retiring “most” of the chimpanzees, and retire them all.

Why Camillo in particular? Because he so typifies the life of a captive chimpanzee at places like Texas Biomed. Here’s how the San Antonio Express describes him:

The first time Camillo was the subject of a clinical experiment, he was a little more than 2 months old. Over the next 22 years, he underwent at least 163 medical procedures, including anesthesia, blood draws and biopsies. All were done in the name of scientific research …

… Under the Freedom of Information Act, the [PCRM] obtained Camillo’s complete medical research history. It tells quite a tale. At just over 2 months of age, Camillo was entered into a hormone study that required numerous blood draws. At 2 years old he was, over a period of almost nine months, subjected to 34 blood draws and 11 biopsies. During a 1998 study of an experimental drug, he was given no food for 48 hours. Five days later he underwent more blood testing. Eight days after that he was given a vitamin and iron supplement to treat or prevent anemia, perhaps due to the numerous blood draws.

The final decisions about who gets to be retired and who gets to continue to languish in research labs will be made by the NIH. Let’s hope the NIH recognizes that it’s time to end ALL research on captive chimpanzees.