Hundreds of Lab Chimps Are Going To New Homes

Photo: Mint Images/REX Shutterstock.
In a move that will please anyone who’s ever watched The Plague Dogs, the U.S. National Institutes of Health announced this week that it is officially ending its chimpanzee research program, according to Nature magazine.

The program has already retired more than 300 chimps formerly used for biomedical research, but 50 have been kept on reserve in case of an outbreak of disease that required testing on the primates, which are humanity’s closest evolutionary relatives. According to the head of the NIH, the organization has received only one application to use chimps in research since 2013.

Wild chimpanzees have been listed as an endangered species since 1990 but, until this summer, chimps in captivity were listed as only “threatened.” In June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service changed the classification of the captive animals to match their wild counterparts, a move that made it harder to justify testing on the great apes.

Some of the chimpanzees will be going to Chimp Haven, in Keithville, LA. The retired animals are all still the property of the NIH, and since many of them still live in research facilities, it’s going to be difficult to find homes for all of them. In a statement to Buzzfeed News, NIH director Francis Collins said that it would take “years” to find places for the 300-plus chimps, as many sanctuaries are full or close to full.

Although science and research are critically important to society, it’s wonderful that the NIH is releasing its chimps to a better place before they go all Rise of the Planet of the Apes on humanity. Now, if the organization would just tell us what’s going on with the mice — although the world might benefit from some hyperintelligent Rats of NIMH. They can do wonders with electrical wiring, after all.
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