Nearly three years ago, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that all of its remaining research chimpanzees would be retired to sanctuaries. Now, there is a chance that some may be deemed too frail to make the move.
Soon, the agency will be making a decision on how to proceed with efforts to relocate former research chimpanzees to Chimp Haven, particularly those “at-risk” animals with age-related conditions or poor health. Approximately one third of chimpanzees eligible for retirement are considered geriatric (35 years old or older) and nearly two-thirds are chronically ill, according to statistics released by the NIH.
While NIH statistics from March of this year showed that more of their owned or supported chimpanzees still remained in research facilities than at Chimp Haven, the number of chimpanzees in those facilities has been shrinking while the number at Chimp Haven has been growing.
This is an encouraging trend—but it does mean that a few hundred chimpanzees are still awaiting their “retirement.” NAVS’ goal is to ensure that all chimpanzees who qualify for relocation to Chimp Haven get moved to the sanctuary as quickly as possible.
As we have detailed previously, the process of relocating the chimpanzees to their sanctuary has been slow going. Among the numerous roadblocks that have hindered the chimpanzees’ progress has been a lack of space for all eligible chimpanzees, as well as the high cost involved in transferring, housing and caring for the animals.
Given this history of delays, we are concerned about whether some chimpanzees—in particular, the ones deemed “at-risk”—will be given approval to relocate at all.
According to Robert Lanford, director of the Southwest National Primate Research Center at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, of the nearly 80 chimpanzees there, he believes seven will need to stay at the facility because of behavioral, emotional and/or physical problems and may not get to experience life at the sanctuary. The fate of those chimpanzees, and all other NIH-owned or supported chimpanzees at other research facilities, will be determined shortly, as will the process for determining which chimpanzees qualify for transfer, and which will be forced to live out their remaining days in research facilities.
Raven Jackson-Jewett, veterinarian at Chimp Haven recognizes the importance of weighing the risks of relocating chimpanzees against the benefits. “Risks are inevitable…we’re never going to have a risk of zero. The benefit is what we can afford them in a life of sanctuary.”
NAVS has been involved in the chimpanzee retirement effort from the very beginning, as we helped provide the initial funding for the establishment of Chimp Haven and continue to provide critical resources to this facility through our Sanctuary Fund. NAVS also submitted comments to the NIH, which emphasized the importance of maximizing the number of chimpanzees who can be moved to Chimp Haven and the need to move chimpanzees to the sanctuary as quickly as possible.
It remains our goal to ensure that every chimp who can be safely moved to their sanctuary is given the opportunity to finally live their life as nature intended. We will be sure to update you on any developments in this area.