NIH must retire chimpanzees to sanctuary

Enforcing the CHIMP Act:
The Case for Criteria to Retire Chimpanzees in Labs
to Sanctuary

NEAVS invites you to watch a recording of our webinar to learn more about how to get chimpanzees out of labs and into sanctuary.


NEAVS President Dr. Theodora Capaldo, NEAVS Science Director Dr. Jarrod Bailey, and Gloria Grow, Fauna Sanctuary founder/director, weigh in on life in the laboratory for chimpanzees, how they heal in sanctuary, the science demonstrating how ineffective chimpanzee research is, and details about our proposed criteria for retiring chimpanzees to sanctuary. NOTE: Technical difficulties with sound clear up
at 1:50.

Watch a recording of the
webinar here.

The Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance, and Protection (CHIMP) Act, signed into law in 2000, could retire hundreds of chimpanzees from research immediately. It authorizes sending chimpanzees to sanctuary who are considered “not needed.” But “not needed” has never been defined. NEAVS submitted a Rulemaking Petition to hold the government accountable.

Despite scientific evidence demonstrating they are unnecessary, some 900 chimpanzees languish in U.S. labs. Many are elderly and sick, and 80-90% are not being used in research. A law exists that would retire these chimpanzees to sanctuary, however it is not being fulfilled. In response, NEAVS, the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA), Save the Chimps, Fauna Foundation, Animal Protection of New Mexico, the Kerulos Center, Sen. Bob Smith (lead sponsor of the Senate version of the CHIMP Act), and Friends of Washoe – under the counsel of Katherine Meyer of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal in Washington, D.C. – filed a Rulemaking Petition asking the government to define when a chimpanzee is not needed for research and then retire them.

The CHIMP Act provides for a sanctuary system for the lifetime care of chimpanzees in labs who are determined to be no longer needed for research. But each year millions of federal tax dollars are awarded to labs to “house and maintain” chimpanzees, and there is little incentive for labs to retire them and lose lucrative funding. Doing what is right for chimpanzees, better science, and our tax dollars conflicts with the labs’ financial interests. In addition, a 2011 Institute of Medicine report determined most current use of chimpanzees for research is unnecessary. When the nation’s most esteemed scientific body reaches such a conclusion, in combination with the mandates of the CHIMP Act, we should be seeing more chimps in sanctuary and few, if any, still in labs. But this isn’t the case.

NEAVS' Rulemaking Petition asks the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to fulfill its legal responsibility under the CHIMP Act, and define when a chimpanzee is not needed for research and therefore eligible for retirement. In response to this authority, HHS lets the laboratories themselves decide. Consequently, hundreds of chimpanzees remain in labs when they could and should be in sanctuary.

The Rulemaking Petition suggests criteria to define when chimpanzees are not needed. If implemented, hundreds of chimpanzees would be retired who:

  1. are held for research in which they have been determined to be unnecessary;
  2. have not been assigned to research in 10 years; and
  3. are unfit research models including the elderly, those with multi-use histories or incomplete medical records, and those with chronic, severe, or multiple physical or psychological illness.

Because of the importance of social groups staying together, for both a chimpanzee’s psychological and physical well-being, criteria should further specify that a family or significant group member should accompany each chimpanzee retired to sanctuary, regardless of their individual status.

Letters of Support

Update: NEAVS received a response from HHS in December 2012 denying the Petition, however the justification provided gave us great encouragement. It stated, “Preserving the Secretary’s discretion facilitates the NIH’s ability to respond to changing scientific conditions and where appropriate, retire chimpanzees more quickly and efficiently [emphasis added]." Had we received this letter any time prior to submitting our Petition, it would have spurred more resolve. But, the landscape in late 2012 had changed dramatically and the response was received soon after the NIH had decided to retire all 113 chimpanzees from the New Iberia Research Center to federal sanctuary, Chimp Haven. In addition, in January 2013 the National Institute of Health’s Council of Councils advisory issued its report on how NIH should implement Institute of Medicine recommendations based on findings that “research involving chimpanzees has rarely accelerated new discoveries or the advancement of human health for infectious diseases. CoC recommendations include:

  • Two-thirds of current biomedical research using chimpanzees should end.
  • Roughly 90% of NIH-owned or -supported chimpanzees should be retired and sent to sanctuary.
  • 50 chimpanzees (number to be reassessed every five years) should be held in the event of future potential research needs, but should be housed in “ethologically appropriate” environments that include social groups of at least seven, 1,000 sq ft per individual, year-round outdoor access, 20-ft climbing structures, and opportunities for “choice and self-determination.”

Though the Rulemaking Petition was denied, NEAVS firmly believes it was a vital component to the relentless pressure Project R&R placed on those with the power to end the ethically and scientifically unsound practice of warehousing and using chimpanzees for research. The Rulemaking Petition continued the momentum NEAVS/Project R&R set through our numerous published science papers; our joining others in a Rulemaking Petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requesting the agency "uplist" the status of captive chimpanzees from threatened to endangered; continuous educational outreach and advocacy, including our nationwide “In Their Own Words” presentations; our award-winning website; funding of rescues; and myriad other informed and effective strategies toward our goal of ending research in the U.S. on the first nonhuman species. As NEAVS’ Project R&R campaign continues, we will advance the goals of the Rulemaking Petition by advocating a triaged approach to getting all chimpanzees out of labs.

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