The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has retired the last federally-owned chimpanzees from a life as research subjects.
In 2013, the NIH retired over 300 of its chimpanzees but kept 50 chimpanzees “in reserve” for future research needs. This decision came after a study commissioned by the NIH on the necessity of using chimpanzees for biomedical research concluded that “while the chimpanzee has been a valuable animal model in past research, most current use of chimpanzees for biomedical research is unnecessary.”
This month, NIH director Francis Collins announced that the NIH will completely end all use of chimpanzees in NIH research, and that the 50 chimpanzees that had been held in reserve will be retired. This decision comes after the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service ruled that all chimpanzees, both in the wild and in captivity, would be listed as endangered, thus making invasive research on chimpanzees possible only if scientists could prove that the research would benefit wild chimpanzees. This decision, made in June 2015, went into effect in September.
Like the chimpanzees retired by the NIH in previous year, these 50 chimpanzees are slated to be moved to Chimp Haven, a federally-funded chimpanzee sanctuary that cares for chimpanzees who have been used as research subjects as well as chimpanzees who have been retired from the pet and/or entertainment industry. At the sanctuary, retired chimpanzees will be able to live in appropriate social groups and will not be confined to cages, but will be allowed to roam and climb outdoors.
The Jane Goodall Institute applauds the NIH’s decision to end the practice of using chimpanzees in research and to give these 50 chimpanzees a second chance at life. Chimpanzee populations in the wild are dwindling rapidly, and we are hopeful that the cessation of invasive research on chimpanzees will help shift the focus within the scientific community to chimpanzee conservation.
In response to this decision, Dr. Jane Goodall had the following words:
“I have long advocated for the end of invasive research on chimpanzees. Thus the Jane Goodall Institute welcomed the decision, made by Dr. Francis Collins of the National Institutes of Health in 2013, to retire all but 50 of federally owned chimpanzees held in medical research facilities. This decision was made after a special task force investigated all research protocols and found none of the research was beneficial to human health. The 50 were retained in case of future need. We read with great joy the announcement … that these 50 will now also be retired from research. And I wish to commend Dr. Collins for his wise leadership that has led to phasing out the chimpanzee program in a responsible way. But our work is not done. We must ensure that all ex-lab chimpanzees can be provided with sanctuaries where, for the rest of their lives, their physical, behavioural and social needs will be met.”