In 2015, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced its intention to retire all of the approximately 300 chimpanzees it owns and supports to sanctuaries. Experts believed that the remaining 340 privately-owned chimpanzees would also follow suit.
But since that time, how many chimpanzees have actually been relocated to sanctuaries? And what is standing in the way of more animals being retired? A recent article in Science provided updates on this important issue.
Currently, less than half of former laboratory chimpanzees live in sanctuaries. The remaining animals, approximately 570 chimps, are still in scientific facilities. Only 73 chimpanzees—51 government-owned and 22 privately-owned animals—have entered sanctuaries in the last two years. At this slow pace, too many chimpanzees continue to be confined in research facilities and may die there before they enjoy their promised retirement in a sanctuary community.
NIH Deputy Director James Anderson has recognized this delay, but insists the NIH is “moving as quickly as we can for the safety of the chimps.” NIH Director Francis Collins has described retirement efforts as “challenging,” and has indicated the process will take “several more years.”
Why is the move to sanctuaries taking so long? There are many reasons.
The transfer of chimpanzees is done at a deliberately slow pace. For health and safety reasons, no more than ten animals are relocated at one time. However, even with that known constraint, the NIH failed to develop or communicate a clear plan for the transfer of chimpanzees until just last year.
Lack of space for all chimpanzees eligible for retirement is also problematic, with many sanctuaries needing to expand their facilities to account for all of the animals.
And, of course, there is the matter of funding. Chimp Haven, the National Chimpanzee Sanctuary, pays for all construction on its own. They estimate that it may cost as much as $17 million to accommodate the remaining NIH chimpanzees. Food, toys and veterinary care for the animals comes at an additional cost.
Compounding all of these issues is the ongoing debate over where chimpanzees should retire. Individuals at lab facilities advocate for chimpanzees to retire not to sanctuaries, but within the research facilities where they are currently housed. However, with respect to the NIH chimpanzees, Anderson noted that they have “made a commitment to move them to a federal sanctuary, and that’s a path they’re taking.”
NAVS believes that chimpanzees should finally be able to enjoy freedom from the laboratory and get a fresh start at a sanctuary. We have long supported the efforts of sanctuaries to create new beginnings for chimpanzees that were once involved in research.
But providing a lifetime of care for hundreds of chimpanzees is an expensive proposition.
NAVS’ APES (Assisting Primates Entering Sanctuaries) campaign is helping ensure that sanctuaries are able to welcome and care for their newly-retired residents. Click here to learn how you can help.
Read more: Learn more about the controversy surrounding chimpanzee retirement in NAVS’ Animal Action newsletter.
Source: “Research on lab chimps is over. Why have so few been retired to sanctuaries?,” Science, June 12, 2017