Affiliated with Emory University
Approximate number of chimpanzees: 85
Yerkes National Primate Research Center
201 Dowman Drive
Atlanta, Georgia 30322
YNPRC Director: Stuart Zola, PhD
The Yerkes National Primate Research Center (YNPRC) receives federal funding for research involving the use of chimpanzees and is one of eight federally supported National Primate Research Centers. The YNPRC—considered “the oldest scientific institute dedicated to nonhuman primate research”—is hosted by Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia and houses chimpanzees, rhesus macaques, cynomolgus monkeys, sooty mangabeys, squirrel monkeys, and capuchins.1,2 The YNPRC believes that the use of nonhuman primates and rodents is “critical to the Center’s research in the fields of microbiology and immunology, neurologic diseases, neuropharmacology, behavioral, cognitive and developmental neuroscience, and psychiatric disorders.”3
The center’s nonhuman primates—3,400 in total —are maintained at two locations, “a 25-acre main center on the campus of Emory University and a 117-acre field station in Lawrenceville, Georgia. The main center, which houses approximately 1,200 nonhuman primates and 13,000 rodents, contains most of the Center's biomedical research laboratories. The field station, which houses approximately 2,200 nonhuman primates, specializes in behavioral studies of primate social groups.”4 Located at the field station is the YNPRC’s Living Links Center. The center’s primary mission is “to study human evolution by investigating our close genetic, anatomical, cognitive, and behavioral similarities with great apes.”5
The YNPRC is named after psychobiologist Dr. Robert M. Yerkes, whose studies on chimpanzees in the 1920s led to the opening of the first laboratory in the U.S. for the study of nonhuman primates, the Yale Laboratories for Primate Biology. Funded by Yale University, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Carnegie Foundation, the Yale Laboratories opened in 1930 in Orange Park, Florida. It was later renamed the Yerkes Laboratory of Primate Biology upon Dr. Yerkes’ retirement in 1941. After Dr. Yerkes’ death in 1956, Yale decided that the location of the Yerkes lab “was not conducive to the development and conduct of collaborative research and educational programs for Yale faculty and students.” That same year, Emory University assumed ownership of the lab. In 1961, “Emory received NIH’s [National Institutes of Health] Regional [now National] Primate Research Center status for the Yerkes facility in Orange Park. NIH funding enabled the transfer of the Center to the Emory University campus, which was completed in 1965.”6
To study human evolution, the Living Links Center was established at the YNPRC’s field station in 1997 and is “home to two socially housed groups of chimpanzees and…capuchin monkeys.”7 An experiment using chimpanzees at the center in 2005 confirmed that “cultural transmission and conformity” exists in chimpanzee communities. This experiment was conducted despite the fact that its finding has been known and not questioned since the extensive 30+ years of field work with free-living chimpanzees in Africa by Dr. Jane Goodall. The center’s study revealed that chimpanzees “share the same conformist tendencies” as humans and have a “natural motivation to copy their peers well into adulthood.”8
In 2005, the USDA fined Emory University $1,375 for violations of the AWA at YNPRC due to the 2004 death of a chimpanzee named Dover. According to a USDA inspection report dated October 18, 2004, Dover died after he was transported in a cage that failed to meet AWA regulations. Despite high temperatures, the YNPRC moved Dover in a “stainless steel box with solid flooring, roof, rear and sides.” Not only was the temperature inside the enclosure too high under the AWA, but only the front of the enclosure had any ventilation openings.9 The YNPRC also received an official warning letter from the USDA in 2001 for the death of another chimpanzee named Sellers. In 2007, the USDA fined Emory University $15,000 for AWA violations committed at the YNPRC in 2006. The USDA stated, “size of civil penalties or stipulations — settlements arrived at before going to court — is based on the size of the business, its history of noncompliance and the severity of the violations.” In addition to the 2005 fine, Emory paid $10,000 in 1998 for AWA violations involving water deprivation.10
In regard to the current use of chimpanzees in research, the YNPRC “primarily sponsors studies pertaining to developmental and cognitive neuroscience, as well as aging-related comparative neurobiology.” To do this, they utilize techniques involving “behavioral testing, neuroimaging, neuroanatomy, and genetics.”11 According to their website, “chimpanzees make valuable contributions to research involving aging, brain imaging, genetic and cognitive studies, human nature, social intelligence and evolution.”12 In 2007, the YNPRC was awarded a five-year federal grant to examine aspects of aging in 400 human women, 25 chimpanzees, and around 25 other nonhuman primates.
Historically, chimpanzees at the YNPRC were used in research focused on nonhuman primate reproduction, among other things. In 1974, a documentary entitled PRIMATE by famed filmmaker Frederick Wiseman exposed the breeding research that was taking place at the YNPRC. NEAVS/Project R&R President, Dr. Theodora Capaldo, has said, “PRIMATE was almost certainly the first and last time a camera was so freely admitted to a research lab anywhere in the U.S. In Wiseman’s film, the institution of animal research was laid bare: the humdrum mentality of the attendants, the attitude of the vivisectors, the day to day lives of the animals, and, of course, the rhetoric necessary to try to convince not just us but perhaps even themselves that their ‘work’ is necessary and beneficial.” In addition, Wiseman’s PRIMATE documentary shows researchers observing and manipulating the sexual behavior of chimpanzees and other primates. Wiseman filmed the documentary during a period in which Yerkes’ primary focus was on breeding. Other great apes—gorillas and orangutans—were also part of those years of reproductive research. When the documentary appeared on public television, audiences were outraged. Researchers found these reactions incredulous. Chimpanzees at the YNPRC have also been used in maternal separation/deprivation experiments conducted by researchers R. K. Davenport, C.M. Rogers and E.W. Menzel.13 Examples of these kinds of experiments include maternally deprived infant chimpanzees being used to study the effects of food deprivation and administration of amphetamines on their behavior, and chimpanzee infants/children being deprived of their mother and raised by a human instead (cross-fostering).
- Behavioral studies on aging, cognitive function, and socialization
- Developmental and cognitive neuroscience
- Age-related comparative neurobiology
The YNPRC, like the other main research labs, receives funding from NIH for the use of chimpanzees in research. In fact, most of the behavioral chimpanzee research supported by NIH is conducted at the YNPRC.14 All NIH grants for the YNPRC are paid to its host institution, Emory University, rather than to the center itself. In 2007, the YNPRC was awarded a $10 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Aging to compare how mental abilities decline in aging humans, chimpanzees, and monkeys. For grant P51RR000165, “Support of Yerkes National Primate Research Center,” Emory University received nearly $11 million in 2011. Since 1998, Emory has received over $126 million for this one grant.15
In 2010, NIH released information on six facilities that housed NCRR owned or supported chimpanzees. The YNPRC was included among these facilities and listed as one of two National Primate Research Centers that “are supported via a base grant which supports many other primates in addition to chimpanzees.”16 Interestingly, in 2011, information released in a report by the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine stated that, unlike the other main facilities that receive NCRR/NIH housing and maintenance grants to support their nonhuman primate populations, the YNPRC “does not use any core funds from the NCRR to support the costs for maintaining humane care and welfare of chimpanzees.”17 This discrepancy illustrates the difficulty involved in uncovering the truth behind how government money, and in essence taxpayer money, is used in funding the use of animals in research.
(1) Yerkes National Primate Research Center. (n.d.). Resources. Retrieved from http://www.yerkes.emory.edu/about/resources.html
(2) Yerkes National Primate Research Center. (n.d.). Animals. Retrieved from http://www.yerkes.emory.edu/animals/index.html
(3) Yerkes National Primate Research Center. (n.d.). About. Retrieved from http://www.yerkes.emory.edu/about/index.html
(4) Yerkes National Primate Research Center. (n.d.). Resources. Retrieved from http://www.yerkes.emory.edu/about/resources.html
(5) Emory University. (n.d.). Living Links. Retrieved from http://www.emory.edu/LIVING_LINKS/index.html
(6) Yerkes National Primate Research Center. (n.d.). History. Retrieved from http://www.yerkes.emory.edu/about/history.html
(7) Emory University. (n.d.). Living Links. Retrieved from http://www.emory.edu/LIVING_LINKS/index.html
(8) Emory University. (2005, August 21). Cultural norms not unique to human societies. Retrieved from http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2005-08/euhs-cnn081905.php
(9) Singer, J. (2005, November 4). Emory fined for death of chimp in ’04. The Emory Wheel, Emory University.
(10) McMillan, S. (2007, October 1). Yerkes Hit with $15,000 Penalty. The Emory Wheel, Emory University.
(11) Institute of Medicine. (2011). Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research: Assessing the Necessity. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
(12) Yerkes National Primate Research Center. (n.d.). Chimpanzee. Retrieved from http://www.yerkes.emory.edu/animals/chimpanzee.html
(13) Stephens, M.L. (1986). Maternal Deprivation Experiments in Psychology: A Critique of the Animal Models.
(14) Institute of Medicine. (2011). Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research: Assessing the Necessity. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
(15) Tracking Accountability in Government Grants System. (n.d.). TAGGS. Available from http://taggs.hhs.gov/ (16) National Center for Research Resources. (2010, March 24). NCRR Owned/Supported Chimpanzee Population/Cost. NCRR report from a legislative meeting with NEAVS and HSUS.
(17) Institute of Medicine. (2011). Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research: Assessing the Necessity. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.