Sanctuary for Former Lab Chimps, But Who Might Be Left Behind?

Three years ago, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that it would no longer support experimentation on chimpanzees. The NIH stated that all of the chimps that it “owns” or supports would be eligible for retirement to Chimp Haven, a sanctuary in Louisiana. The animals would be moved “with careful consideration of their welfare, including their health and social grouping” as space became available.

At present, 257 chimps are still being held at three research facilities in San Antonio and Bastrop, Texas, and Alamogordo, New Mexico, waiting for their turn to be relocated. Recently there have been efforts to impede the retirement process. A large number of chimps are being labeled “at-risk” with the suggestion that they need to stay put because the move to the sanctuary might harm or kill them. But the facilities sowing doubts about moving the chimps are the very ones currently receiving federal funds for housing them.

The NIH’s solution is to let an “independent veterinary panel” (one unlikely to have chimp expertise) make the final decision about chimps deemed “too ill to be moved.” These so-called independent vets are actually employed by the NIH. In fact, there is no evidence that a move would be risky. These poor chimps deserve a taste of the good life and should be moved with their social groups as a matter of urgency.

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