April 20, 2006 • Posted in Project R&R News
The official launch of Project R&R: Release and Restitution for Chimpanzees in U.S. Laboratories was held in Atlanta, Georgia on Thursday evening, April 20th to a full auditorium of chimpanzee experts, advocates, professors, and others. Held at the prestigious Fernbank Museum of Natural History, the event offered a special presentation of In Their Own Words—Stories of Chimpanzees Rescued from Research.
As noted by Theodora Capaldo, EdD, President of NEAVS and director of Project R&R, “In Their Own Words is playing no small part in moving us toward our goal of ending the use of all chimpanzees in all U.S. labs…we are proud to sponsor these programs graced by the caliber of speakers we have here for you tonight.”
Jarrod Bailey, PhD, Scientific Advisor to Project R&R, began the evening with a discussion of why the crucial genetic differences between chimpanzees and humans make the use of this species ineffective and even dangerous to research on human health. A geneticist, Bailey described how seemingly small differences in DNA may have major far-reaching implications, detailing the flaws and limitations of recent and current research using chimpanzees.
Two former Yerkes lab workers—Jen Feuerstein and Nancy Megna—shared their personal experiences caring for chimpanzees in research, and their need to speak out about ending chimpanzee research.
When Feuerstein started working at Yerkes, she did not view biomedical research on other species as wrong but changed her mind as she came to see the harsh realities of biomedical research and grew to care deeply about the chimpanzees.
She spoke about the difficulty in seeing them separated from their families at Yerkes Behavioral Field Station—where they lived in groups and a small amount of outdoor space—to the stark existence of Yerkes Main Center where they often endured multiple procedures and were kept in cages too small to meet their natural social or physical needs or often in individual confinement.
Feuerstein also spoke movingly about Dover, a colorful male chimpanzee who tragically died of heat prostration in a poorly ventilated Yerkes’ transport cage that violated Animal Welfare Act regulations. She introduced Clint, a chimpanzee known publicly only for the use of his DNA for the recently completed chimpanzee genome project. She conveyed Clint’s spirit and incredible physical presence. Clint was reportedly euthanized due to a heart condition in January 2005 at the young age of 24.
Feuerstein now works for Save the Chimps (STC) in Alamogordo, New Mexico, at the site of the former Coulston lab, from where a total of 266 rescued chimpanzees will be transferred to STC’s expanding Florida sanctuary.
Megna, who worked for four years at Yerkes and five years at the closed Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP), is now a Program Specialist for Project R&R. She relayed the trauma that chimpanzees endure when they are shot down with dart guns to anesthetize them—a process known as a “knockdown,” often required for even minor procedures like blood draws since chimpanzees are so much stronger than humans.
Megna spoke about the LEMSIP nursery where young chimpanzees were typically taken from their mothers at one year of age (free-living chimpanzees stay with their mothers until at least age five) to become accustomed to human handling. The young chimpanzees were often lethargic for up to two months when removed from their mothers, according to Megna. Eventually all the youngsters were forced to leave the relative comfort of the nursery for a life of “work” in research procedures and LEMSIP’s barren 5'x 5'x7' cages.
Gloria Grow, founder of the Fauna Foundation sanctuary in Canada, spoke compellingly about the pressing need to get chimpanzees still held in U.S. labs into sanctuary before it is too late. Like other sanctuaries, the Fauna Foundation—which took in 15 chimpanzees from LEMSIP upon its closure—has dealt with the unexpected deaths of four relatively young chimpanzees. Grow’s firsthand experience of the toll exacted on chimpanzees from years—and even decades—of research drives her urgency.
Grow related stories about Donna Rae, Annie, Billy Jo and others—conveying their distinct personalities, emotional challenges, and growth in sanctuary. The Fauna chimpanzees are, in her words, “ambassadors on behalf of all those remaining in labs.” Grow gave these ambassadors a passionate voice.
In her introduction, Capaldo explained that Atlanta was chosen for the launch of the campaign because of its connection to Robert Mearns Yerkes, an American psychobiologist, who initiated the use of chimpanzees in research in the 1920s and went on to establish the nation’s first primate research center. His namesake, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, is based in Atlanta and affiliated with Emory University. Over 100 chimpanzees are believed to be held at the facility, which is one of two National Primate Research Centers backed by the National Institutes of Heath (NIH) that use chimpanzees.
The event concluded with a touching video of Fauna’s rescued chimpanzees, including footage of their beloved matriarch, Annie—a chimpanzee captured as an infant in Africa, used in circus entertainment, and caged for 20 years at LEMSIP—as she emerged with wonder into the Fauna playroom for the first time. Annie died in 2002.
Atlanta radio personality Jimmy Baron emceed the event and spoke about his commitment to groups focused on bringing about social change. Chicago musician Harry Hmura, founder of Banding Against Animal Research & Entertainment (BAARE), provided a live musical introduction.
“Thank you all . . .” said Capaldo at the conclusion of the Project R&R event…“for your attention, your compassion, and your willingness to commit to chimpanzees…they are waiting.”