Sea Change Afloat for Chimpanzees in Laboratories

The NIH may be taking steps to reduce the number of chimpanzees subject to medical research, and vastly improve conditions for those who remain in research. Photo from Chimp Haven.Most of the 360 National Institutes of Health (NIH)-owned chimpanzees currently in laboratories should be permanently retired from research and moved to sanctuaries—which need to be expanded to accommodate the animals. Six of nine ongoing invasive biomedical research projects conducted with 81 chimpanzees should be ended.

These are among a long list of steps recommended in a report by a Working Group of the Council of Councils—an advisory body to the NIH—to implement earlier recommendations by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) regarding chimpanzees in experimental laboratories. (See the Winter 2012 AWI Quarterly.) The Working Group’s proposed changes are subject to a 60-day public comment period before NIH Director Francis Collins makes a final decision.

The Working Group’s report, released on January 22, called for “ethologically appropriate physical and social environments” for about 50 chimpanzees who would still be held for possible future research, with that number reassessed every five years or so. However, for these chimpanzees, the report stressed the need to “promote the full range of natural chimpanzee behaviors” [emphasis theirs] rather than just allow them. The Working Group called for maintaining social groups of seven or more chimpanzees, with 1,000 square feet of space per individual, a vertical height of at least 20 feet for climbing, and year-round outdoor access. In addition, the primates should have foraging opportunities, material to construct new nests daily, and environmental enrichment programs that provide “opportunities for choice and self-determination.”

The Working Group also recommended establishment of an independent oversight committee to advise on proposed chimpanzee research, as the existing “Interagency Animal Models Committee is not considered independent,” and contains no members of the public.

See companion article: … as New Iberia Chimpanzees Set Sail for Sanctuary

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