Two years ago, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) went forward and retired a large portion of their testing chimps, vowing to get with the times and look for more humane methods to perform scientific research. On November 16, 2015, the NIH took the next step by announcing it would move forward to retire the rest of its research chimps. With 50 animals to relocate, they are hoping to make the transition quickly and secure a better life for these former test subjects.
In 2013, the NIH took the first steps to retiring their research chimps, releasing 310 of their subjects to be sent to various shelters around the country. At that time, they were working with an advisory panel that suggested they no longer needed this large number of research subjects. With advances in medical research technology, they realized they not only didn’t need to use these chimps any longer, but they also felt it was past time for them to get up to date and stop putting these animals through sometimes invasive procedures. Despite getting rid of the majority of these subjects, they opted to keep 50 on hand in case of something urgent, like a public health emergency.
To further cement this, the Fish and Wildlife (FWS) services actually passed a law that prohibited any sort of research that might stress these animals out, unless it was intended to benefit wild chimpanzees. Of course, the NIH has continued some non-invasive research since that time, but they now believe it is past due for them to move on.
For many, this is a significant announcement as it marks a true step forward for animal rights. Pushing these research chimps out of the picture means there is one less species to worry about and the thought is they will be much better cared for in proper sanctuaries. On the other hand, some still believe animal research is a necessary evil and say these animal rights supporters are not looking at the big picture. They insist this loss of resources could prove to be a mistake down the road.
Of course, some are just looking to the more practical concern of how these chimps are going to be supported going forward. Though some of the 50 research chimps already have sanctuaries lined up, not all of them do. As a result, the NIH is still looking for proper homes for some of their subjects while also looking to cease funding for some of the other, former subjects. Right now, they also have to pay support for many of these, including 82 at the Southwest National Primate Research Center. The question is, if no one is able to take care of them properly, will they really end up being any better off?