The National Institutes of Health is retiring all of its remaining chimpanzees used in research.
Nature News broke the story Wednesday, citing a November 16 email from NIH director Francis Collins to agency administrators which announced that the 50 NIH-owned research chimps will be sent to sanctuaries.
The agency retired more than 300 of its animals in 2013, following the recommendations an internal advisory panel that was based on a 2011 Institute of Medicine report, which found that most chimp research was unnecessary.
However, the NIH kept a colony of 50 chimps for research that meets strict standards, such as public health emergencies.
A natural next step
“It seemed to me that it was time. We have the information we need that keeping the animals in reserve was no longer justified,” Collins told STAT.
In June, the US Fish and Wildlife Service declared captive chimpanzees an endangered species.
This meant researchers could not do any work that stressed the animals unless it benefited wild chimpanzees. However, chimps could still be used in studies of animal behaviour.
In October, animal rights activists sent a damning letter to Collins’ neighbours that “allows baby monkeys to be removed from their loving mothers, tormented, and deliberately scared senseless,” and also included Collins’ home address.
Since 2013, the NIH has only received one application to use its chimps in research, and that was later withdrawn, Collins said, according to Nature.
But not everyone is happy with the decision. “I don’t understand the decision of ‘we’re going to take that resource away forever’,” Frankie Trull, president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research in Washington DC, told Nature.
What will happen to the chimps
According to Nature, Collins wrote that the first move will be to transfer 20 chimps owned by the NIH from the Southwest National Primate Research Center in San Antonio, Texas, to Chimp Haven, a government-funded sanctuary in Keithville, Louisiana.
Chimp Haven is nearly full, but the sanctuary has opened up 25 new spots, Collins said.
Then, the agency will move 139 chimps currently housed at a facility owned by the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Bastrop.
Collins told Nature the NIH is still determining what to do with another 82 chimps that are housed at the Southwest National Primate Research Center and supported by the agency.
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