NIH Report Proposes Retiring Research Chimps

A report from the National Institutes of Health council recommends that the agency put out to pasture all but 50 of the chimpanzees it uses in research.

Soon To Be Retired

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The days of chimpanzees as test subjects for federally funded research may be drawing to a close. In a report released this week, a committee within the National Institutes of Health's Council of Councils has advised that the government limit the use of chimps in biomedical research.

The advisory committee was commissioned after a 2011 report declared most NIH research on chimps was scientifically unnecessary. Going forward, the advisory council recommends keeping 50 out of 451 chimpanzees currently being researched through NIH.

For any future research using the animals, the NIH report stipulated that lab living conditions should "promote the full range of natural chimpanzee behaviors," rather than simply "allow" them. As such, they recommended chimps live in social groups of at least 7 individuals, with 1,000 square feet of living space per chimp, room to climb and outdoor access year round.

Kathleen Conlee, vice president for animal research issues at the Humane Society of the United States, told the New York Times that no laboratory in the U.S. currently meets these standards. Per the recommendations, living conditions for NIH-supported chimps would need to meet the new criteria within five years.

But with so many animals being put into retirement, finding them a home will be a challenge. A total of 219 NIH-owned chimps are already retired, many at Chimp Haven, a nonprofit sanctuary in Louisiana. The sanctuary is running out of room.

"Currently there's no space there; there's no capacity," James Anderson, an NIH official, told NPR. There is a $30 million spending cap on the chimp sanctuary system, and the NIH is set to hit that cap this summer.

The recommendations will be available for 60 days before the director of NIH makes a decision on them in late March.