What Roadblocks Stand in the Way of Chimpanzees’ Sanctuary Move?


In 2013, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) designated the majority of the 300+ chimpanzees it owned and supported for retirement. Since that time, it has announced its intention to retire all of those chimpanzees to Chimp Haven, the National Chimpanzee Sanctuary, over the next decade.

We at NAVS were thrilled to learn that chimpanzees would finally be able to enjoy freedom from the laboratory and get a fresh start at a sanctuary. However, recent articles, blog posts and lobbying efforts by those with vested interests in biomedical research have questioned whether the chimpanzees should be moved at all. These discussions have been fueled, in part, by the news that nine retired chimpanzees who had been transferred to Chimp Haven died within a few months of their relocation.

Chimp Haven staff have shown that the deaths were not caused by a lack of proficiency on their part and have made a compelling case that sanctuary life is best for the retired animals. Meanwhile, others with vested interests in animal research have made unfounded accusations about the quality of care of chimpanzees at Chimp Haven and have argued in support of the chimpanzees “retiring in place” in their labs.

The Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) recently conducted a site visit at Chimp Haven to evaluate its ability to care for retired NIH chimps. The team also examined issues surrounding previous chimpanzee transfers and provided recommendation for future transfers. Highlights from their report include:

  • Chimp Haven’s facilities are more than adequate to house and care for an additional 75 animals. When more chimpanzees are transferred there, staffing levels will need to increase to account for the additional animals.
  • Staff at Chimp Haven expressed concerns that there is poor communication between their facility and the staff at the institutions that are sending chimpanzees. Clearer communication between the NIH, Chimp Haven and institutions transferring chimpanzees will improve chimpanzee welfare and make transfers to sanctuary even smoother.
  • Institutions transferring chimpanzees to Chimp Haven must share medical records, summary sheets and behavioral reports well in advance of the transfer to increase the rate of successful transfers.
  • Seven of the nine chimpanzees who died after arriving to Chimp Haven were geriatric. Prioritizing the transfer of middle-aged and younger chimpanzees, followed by remaining geriatric chimpanzees, would increase the chance of successful integration of new animals at the sanctuary and their survival.

We are pleased to see these OLAW recommendations, and applaud such efforts to ensure smooth transitions for chimpanzees to sanctuaries.

NAVS has long supported the efforts of Chimp Haven and other 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.

Image courtesy of Chimp Haven

This entry was posted in News and tagged on November 7, 2016.
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