by Alicia Graef
January 23, 2013
This week a group of experts advised the National Institutes of
Health (NIH) to permanently retire more than 300 federally-owned
chimpanzees, but also recommended leaving 50 behind who could be made
available for experiments.
The announcement coincides with the first nine
of 110 retired chimps from the New Iberia Research Center arriving at
Chimp Haven, a national sanctuary,
this week with the rest expected to make their way there over the coming
months. Last month the NIH announced it would move them all to a sanctuary,
sending 100 of them to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San
The move to retire the 110 left more than 300 NIH-owned
chimps available for invasive research while the NIH's Council of Councils
Working Group decided on how many research chimps it would keep, in addition
to evaluating research projects the NIH currently funds and developing
strict rules for when they should be used.
The group was established
to further debate the issue of using chimps in research after the Institute
of Medicine (IOM) issued a report in 2011 concluding that most research on
chimps was unethical and unnecessary in biomedical and behavioral research,
which was completed at the request of the NIH and in response to a
The final report issued this week advised the
NIH to permanently retire all but 50 of the agency's chimps who are
currently housed in facilities in Texas and New Mexico to a sanctuary, and
that the NIH should begin planning for this "immediately."
proposed standards for their social and physical welfare, including
requirements that they live in groups of at least seven, each have a minimum
of 1,000 square feet, room to climb, access to the outdoors in all weather
and opportunities to forage for food,
reports to the New York Times.
The report also recommended
stopping six of nine current biomedical research projects that involve
immunology and infectious agents, while an additional six ended. There were
also 15 less invasive projects that were approved, or conditionally
approved, which will need to pass a review before receiving additional
Additionally, the report advised against breeding, and set
standards for future experiments, calling for the establishment of an
independent committee that would approve study proposals after they pass the
NIH's scientific review and experiments that are expected to be harmful must
have a "very high" benefit to humans in order to be approved,
according to Daniel Geschwind, co-chair of the working group and a
geneticist at the School of Medicine at the University of California Los
While the recommendations are good news, they are not final.
NIH Director Francis Collins is expected to respond to them in March, after
a 60-day public commend period.
"We are very pleased with the report.
Of course, we'd want to see every single chimpanzee recommended to go to
sanctuary, but this is a huge step in the right direction," Kathleen Conlee
of the Humane Society of the United States
told NPR. "So now it's time to roll our sleeves up and figure out how we
are going to get all these animals to sanctuary and give them the lifetime
of retirement that they so deserve."
Conlee also said the HSUS will
be urging Congress to reallocate money being spent on research contracts to
Chimp Haven for the care of retired chimps.
recommendations will also not apply to privately-owned chimps, whose fates
remain unclear. Animal advocacy organizations are still pushing to get the
Protection and Cost Savings Act passed this year, which will help the
ones left behind by phasing out testing for chimpanzees currently in U.S.
labs, along with retiring all federally owned chimpanzees and ending
transport and breeding programs for great apes intended for research.
Take Action: Tell the NIH director to allow these chimps to retire!