100 times more monkeys enter U.S. labs than chimps are leaving
CHARLESTON, South Carolina; WASHINGTON D.C.––“One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show,” rhythm-and-blues composer Stick McGhee wrote in 1950. Big Maybelle made the message famous five years later.
The National Institutes of Health decision to retire the last 50 chimpanzees held in the U.S. for biomedical research, however, on November 18, 2015 “stopped the presses” from Associated Press to the Washington Post.
Upstaged Alpha Genesis disclosures
The National Institutes of Health announcement, anticipated since most of the NIH chimp inventory were designated for retirement in 2013, upstaged the efforts of Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) to rally concern about conditions at the Alpha Genesis primate facilities in Charleston, South Carolina, publicized by a SAEN media release less than 24 hours earlier.
“Federal reports from August of 2015 reveal two juvenile monkeys were killed after Alpha Genesis staff negligently returned them to incorrect enclosures, causing fatal conflicts,” SAEN disclosed, citing findings from Freedom of Information Act requests.
“Other reports detail multiple incidents in May of 2015. Two Alpha Genesis primates escaped, and one was killed during attempts to recapture the animal. Another monkey had a limb fracture as a result of mishandling. In February of 2015 one monkey died of dehydration and five others required treatment when Alpha Genesis negligence left the animals without water for six days,” SAEN charged.
At least 65,000 monkeys still in labs
While high-profile federally funded chimpanzee use in invasive experiments mostly ended years ago, the most recent available U.S. Animal Welfare Act data indicates that upward of 65,000 monkeys are still in federally funded laboratories, including nearly 36,500 imported in 2012 and 2013, more than 90% of them rhesus macaques.
Many of the macaques were delivered to U.S. facilities that breed macaques in anticipation of further research demand, like a controversial trio operating in Hendry County, Florida. (See Factory-farming monkeys is A-OK with Hendry County brass, Forced abortions raise alarm over Florida lab monkey breeders, and Florida lab investigated for neglect that killed a monkey.)
Some monkey labs closed
SAEN has helped to close four university nonhuman primate research programs since 2012, beginning with the Pennsylvania State University Medical School, and including most notably the New England Primate Research Center, closed earlier in 2015.
But while SAEN tried to refocus attention on the growing numbers of monkeys used in biomedical experiments, most other national animal advocacy organizations made no mention of monkeys in self-congratulatory statements acknowledging the impending retirement of the chimps––when facilities become available to accept them.
Sanctuaries out of space
As Associated Press medical writer Lauran Neergaard phrased it, “The National Institutes of Health is sending its last remaining research chimpanzees into retirement––as soon as a federal sanctuary has room for them.”
Elaborated Washington Post reporter Darryl Fears, “The NIH will also phase out its support for chimps that it maintains for research but does not keep, meaning that around 360 chimps will be relocated.”
Blogged Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle, “The NIH has also determined that the 20 government-owned chimpanzees at Texas Biomedical Research Institute—the site of an HSUS undercover investigation where we uncovered dismal conditions for the primates housed there—are going to be the next group of chimpanzees moved to sanctuary at Chimp Haven.”
Retired chimps but defended monkey studies
The National Institutes of Health had received only two requests to use chimps in research since 2013, NIH director Francis Collins said.
Wrote Collins to fellow NIH administrators, “It is time to acknowledge that there is no further justification for the [last] 50 chimpanzees to continue to be kept available for invasive biomedical research…It’s time to say we’ve reached the point in the U.S. where invasive research on chimpanzees is no longer something that makes sense.”
However, hedged Collins, “We still feel that research on other non-human primates is essential for human health.”
Hence the expansion of experiments on macaques.
Chimps are endangered species
The National Institutes of Health in 2013 designated 300 chimps for retirement to the federally funded Chimp Haven sanctuary near Shreveport, Louisiana, and other facilities yet to be built or expanded, several weeks after U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe recognized captive chimpanzees as part of the endangered chimp population.
Wild chimpanzees were added to the U.S. endangered species list in 1990, but captive-bred chimps were until 2013 considered to be not endangered––in effect, a different species.
Hundreds yet to be placed
Offered ethologist Marc Bekoff in a blog for Psychology Today, “I applaud this decision and agree with world renowned chimpanzee expert Dr. Jane Goodall when she wrote, ‘The least I can do is speak out for the hundreds of chimpanzees who, right now, sit hunched, miserable and without hope, staring out with dead eyes from their metal prisons. They cannot speak for themselves.”
As of mid-September 2015, according to the Humane Society of the U.S., about 745 chimpanzees were housed at five U.S. laboratories. Beyond those belonging to the National Institutes of Health itself, 415 chimps were distributed among the Alamogordo Primate Facility in New Mexico; the M.D. Anderson Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine in Bastrop, Texas; the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas; the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana; and the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, Georgia.