Working Group Report Recommends End to Most Invasive Chimpanzee Research

Report recommends retirement or ethologically appropriate housing for NIH chimpanzees

The Working Group of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Council of Councils has presented its report, finding that a majority of biomedical research conducted on chimpanzees owned or supported by NIH should end.

Currently NIH owns or supports 670 chimpanzees, including 215 chimpanzees already retired from research and an additional 169 chimpanzees at the Alamogordo Primate Facility that have been “inactive” for many years. 282 chimpanzees currently live at federally-owned or federally funded research facilities and may be involved in biomedical or behavioral research.

In 2010, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to undertake a study assessing the necessity of using chimpanzees in research. The IOM released the results of its study—and its recommendations—in December 2011.

NIH agreed to accept the recommendations of the IOM. NIH then asked its advisory body, the Council of Councils, to undertake a review of current NIH research and to in turn make recommendations on how to implement the principles and criteria for the use of chimpanzees set forth by the IOM. The Council established a Working Group to undertake this review.

The Working Group was charged with:

    • Developing a plan for implementing the IOM principles and guidelines;
    • Analyzing current active NIH-supported research;
    • Advising on the size and placement of active and inactive populations of chimpanzees;
    • Developing a review process for considering potential future use of chimpanzees for research.

In a report released on January 22nd, the Working Group made 28 recommendations, including the following:

    • 81 of the 93 chimpanzees used for biomedical research be permanently “designated for retirement to the federal sanctuary system.”
    • Approval of continued use of the remaining chimpanzees is conditioned on changes in housing and care that would provide an “ethologically appropriate physical and social environment” for chimpanzees. These changes must be made within 3-5 years.
    • NIH review its funding priorities for comparative behavioral, cognitive, and genomics studies using chimpanzees to consider projects that can be conducted in nontraditional settings, such as accredited sanctuaries and zoos that comply with the new ethologically appropriate environment.
    • NIH set up an “Independent Oversight Committee for Using Chimpanzees in NIH-Supported Research” to evaluate any proposed new research on chimpanzees.

This Committee would evaluate whether new proposals meet the principles and criteria of the 2011 Institute of Medicine report on assessing the necessity of using chimpanzees in research The Working Group devoted considerable effort to determining what constitutes “ethologically appropriate physical and social environments” for chimpanzees. The definition given by the Working Group is “captive populations that do not simply allow but also, importantly, promote a full range of behaviors that are natural for chimpanzees. In its report, the Working Group outlined specific guidelines for social and physical environments, as well as enrichment including:

    • Colonies consisting of at least 7 chimpanzees of mixed gender;
    • A minimum living space of at least 1000 ft. per individual animal;
    • Year-round access to the outdoors with access to natural substrate such as grass and dirt;
    • An opportunity to climb at least 20 ft. vertically and rest in an elevated space;
    • Foraging opportunities and a varied diet; • Materials to construct new nests on a daily basis;
    • Enrichment activities that offer relevant opportunities for choice and self-determination.

There are currently no research facilities that can provide an ethologically appropriate environment. Facilities housing NIH chimpanzees will have 3-5 years to comply with these requirements, though there are exceptions for the short-term housing of animals being used for an active research protocol.

While a significant number of animals will be permanently retired from research because of this report, the Working Group concluded that a colony of approximately 50 chimpanzees should be maintained—in an ethologically appropriate environment—in the event of an emergency need for chimpanzees in the future. This population would be young chimpanzees of both genders, 50% of whom have not been previously used for HIV or Hepatitis C research. The maintenance of this colony of chimpanzees would be reviewed every five years to determine whether it is still necessary to maintain these numbers. No breeding would be permitted.

The Working Group has in large part agreed with the findings of the IOM, that a vast majority of biomedical research done on chimpanzees is indeed unnecessary. It has taken this one step further in ensuring that federally-owned or supported chimpanzees used in any research will live in conditions that foster their physical and social needs.

While the Council of Councils voted by wide margin to accept the Working Group report, NIH must still accept the findings of this report and agree to their implementation. First there is a 60-day public comment period, during which NIH is seeking input on the recommendations from the Council of Councils from the biomedical research community, including foundations, scientific societies, government and regulatory agencies, industry, NIH grantee institutions, and from the public. Comments will be accepted through March 23, 2013. After the close of the comment period, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins will determine whether to accept the Council’s recommendations.

What else needs to be done to help ensure that chimpanzees are permanently retired from research?

    • Ensure that the federal sanctuary system—Chimp Haven—has sufficient funds to provide care for all chimpanzees retired from research, now and in the future. Watch for new legislation to help accomplish this goal.
    • Continue to pursue legal, legislative and public pressure to prohibit invasive research on all great apes, including those privately owned and supported.
    • Support the NAVS Sanctuary Fund, which has given grants to all of the chimpanzee sanctuaries in the U.S., including Chimp Haven.
    • Submit comments to NIH on the Working Group report, encouraging NIH to agree that all chimpanzees should be retired after their protocols are complete. Comments must be submitted electronically to NIH through the on-line form. While NIH is seeking comments on specific recommendations of the Council, there is a field for general comments at the end of the form.

NAVS has eagerly been awaiting this report, which will help to define the next steps that need to be taken to end invasive research on all chimpanzees.NAVS has been committed to removing chimpanzees from research and offering them sanctuary, working on the passage of the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection Act and other federal legislation, and providing scientific testimony every step of the way to reach this point. NAVS remains dedicated to working to ensure that all chimpanzees are permanently retired from research. This Working Group report provides a very positive step forward for the NIH chimpanzees, the culmination of years of work by NAVS and many other committed animal advocacy organizations.

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53 West Jackson Blvd., Suite 1552
Chicago, IL 60604
Phone: (312) 427-6065
Fax: (312) 427-6524
© 2015 National Anti-Vivisection Society is a
501(c)3 non-profit organization