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article imageNIH to retire most of its research chimps Special

By Tim Sandle     Jun 26, 2013 in Science
The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a heavily anticipated decision to retire nearly 90 percent of its chimpanzees.
Earlier this month the Digital Journal reported that the U.S. government had put forward a proposal to grant captive chimpanzees the same endangered species status as wild chimps.
The Digital Journal has given extensive coverage to the story of the U.S. research chimps this year. In January, it was reported that U.S. government scientists decided that almost all chimpanzees kept for federally funded research will be retired from laboratories. The chimps will be placed in a national sanctuary. This move meant, however, that a number of chimps would be retained for experiments.
In March, the debate of what to do with the remaining research chimps was highlighted. This was centered on a the Council of Councils, a federal advisory group, report called "Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research: Assessing the Necessity."
Late, in April we reported that Harvard Medical School had announced that it is to close down its primate research center. It was noted that this move was less motivated by concerns about animal testing (despite recent criticisms) but rather a consequence of a lack of funding.
Then in June 2013 came the news that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had announced its intention to change the status of captive chimpanzees from “threatened” to “endangered.” The rule had gone out for public comment.
At the time, Stuart Zola, head of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University, wrote to the agency to protest the potential change.
The latest step in the saga is that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will now retire most of its research chimps. However, the NIH has also made a decision to keep a “reserve” population of up to 50 for “future potential research”.
Francis Collins, director of the NIH is quoted as saying: "Chimpanzees are very special animals. We believe they deserve special consideration as special creatures."
The decision to keep a small population has been criticized by New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS) President Theodora Capaldo. She said in an email that, "though we praise NIH’s decision to retire most of its chimpanzees, the decision to keep a reserve population flies in the face of scientific evidence establishing how chimpanzees have not been, are not, and would not be needed."
Capaldo added: "Pointing to a minuscule number of advances in areas for which they are no longer needed – stemming from such a vast amount of resources and chimpanzee suffering – and using this as justification for claiming there may someday be a future need for chimpanzees, is an argument without scientific merit."
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