“Retired” Research Chimpanzees Still Waiting for Their Move to Freedom

A report just released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Chimpanzee Management Program reveals that while the NIH ended all invasive biomedical research on chimpanzees, the majority of these sentient beings have yet to be transferred to their promised sanctuary, Chimp Haven, the federally-funded sanctuary for retired chimpanzees.

As of January 15, 2016, the numbers show:

  • 561 NIH-owned or -supported chimpanzees
  • 301 NIH-owned chimpanzees eligible for retirement
  • 81 NIH-supported chimpanzees potentially eligible for retirement
  • 179 NIH-owned chimpanzees already retired to Chimp Haven
  • 50  Available places for chimpanzees at Chimp Haven
  • 229 Chimp Haven current capacity
  • 100-150 Additional capacity after potential Chimp Haven expansion

Of the 301 chimpanzees eligible for retirement, there are actual plans to transfer only 19 to Chimp Haven, the federally-funded sanctuary for retired chimpanzees. Only six chimpanzees were transferred in 2015.

The major reason for the slow rate of retirement, the GAO contends, is the NIH’s failure to develop or communicate a clear plan for the transfer of any of the remaining chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are generally transferred in small groups, but this is not the reason for the very slow rate of transfer. The NIH reportedly cancelled several transfers of animals at the last minute, incurring costs in the preparation and underscoring their lack of a working management plan.

Some of the chimpanzees transferred, or eligible for transfer, are of advanced age and some are chronically ill. It is anticipated that many of these animals will die before they ever reach their promised sanctuary, or soon thereafter, reducing the capacity needed to house the NIH chimpanzees.

One such case involved the transfer of thirteen chimpanzees from the Michale E. Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research to Chimp Haven. Most were of an advanced age or chronically ill, and five died within a year of arriving at Chimp Haven. Officials from Keeling said that they thought the chimpanzees could survive the transfer. It is expected that more than 10% of the current population of NIH chimpanzees will die each year because of disease or old age.

A second reason of concern, of course, is the lack of capacity by Chimp Haven to accept this large number of animals, especially as they need special medical care and socialization time. However, Chimp Haven currently has the resources to care for 50 new chimpanzees at its sanctuary. They are also launching a campaign this year to raise funds to expand their capacity to accommodate an additional 100-150 chimpanzees.

The GAO was charged with evaluating the status of the chimpanzee management program, as well as the costs for the care and transfer of these chimpanzees and the potential savings in making the transfer to Chimp Haven. The GAO report concluded that consolidating the remaining chimpanzees at Chimp Haven would result in an overall savings for the government because of the economy of scale and because Chimp Haven receives 25% of its funding from the public, lessening the government’s financial contribution to their care. In 2015, the cost of care per day per chimpanzee was $39.34 at Chimp Haven, compared with $51.39-$55.14 at other NIH facilities. The actual cost per day for 179 chimpanzees runs approximately $9,389, of which $2,347 comes from private donations to Chimp Haven ($856,655 per year).

More importantly for the chimpanzees, the NIH is in the process of developing an implementation plan based primarily on the well-being and safety of the chimpanzees and secondarily on cost savings to the government by housing chimpanzees at the sanctuary rather than at any of their research facilities. It is hoped that the transfer of all NIH chimpanzees will move forward quickly once Chimp Haven’s expansion is in place.

This entry was posted in News on April 21, 2016.
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