The Working Group convened by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to examine the safety of transferring chimpanzees to the federal chimpanzee sanctuary recommended that the chimpanzees owned by the NIH should be moved to Chimp Haven unless that relocation is “extremely likely” to shorten their lives.
The NIH had announced its intention to retire all of the chimpanzees it owns and supports to sanctuaries in 2015. However, as we reported previously in Science First, relocation has been taking much longer than we had originally anticipated.
Numerous challenges have arisen during the transfer process, including a delay by the NIH to develop or communicate a clear plan for chimpanzee transfer, lack of space for all chimpanzees eligible for retirement, and the cost of moving, housing and caring for the chimpanzees.
There has also been an ongoing debate over where chimpanzees should retire. The CHIMP Act (Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance, and Protection Act) of 2000 specified that chimpanzees no longer needed for research should be retired to the federal Chimp Haven sanctuary. Nevertheless, some groups have advocated for chimpanzees to retire “in place” within the research facilities where they are currently housed. Of particular concern has been those animals with age-related conditions who may be at higher risk for adverse events to occur during the transfer process.
To address such concerns, the NIH asked the Council of Councils to form a Working Group to assess the safety of relocating at-risk chimpanzees.
After conducting site visits to some of the facilities that house NIH-owned or -supported chimpanzees, interviewing experts, and collecting data from research facilities and the federal sanctuary system, the Working Group developed strategies regarding the relocation of chimpanzees.
Ultimately, the Working Group recommended that “the NIH and the facilities that house NIH-owned and NIH-supported chimpanzees should relocate all of these chimpanzees to the federal sanctuary system unless relocation is extremely likely to shorten their lives.” They also advised that “when facilities disagree about whether to relocate a chimpanzee, independent expert veterinary opinion should be sought to inform the relocation decision,” among other recommendations.
These suggestions are being presented to an advisory group of the NIH, who will forward these recommendations, along with its own, to the NIH. The NIH will then open a 60-day public comment period before the NIH director decides how to move forward. We will be sure to keep you posted on developments in this area.
We are encouraged that the Working Group has recommended relocating as many chimpanzees as possible to sanctuaries, as we have long supported retirement efforts for chimpanzees that were once involved in research.