This week, the National Institutes of Health Council of Councils approved a report that recommends that “Almost all of the 451 chimpanzees owned or supported by the National Institutes of Health that are now at research facilities should be permanently retired from research and moved to sanctuaries, with planning for the move to start immediately,” according to the New York Times. The report (pdf) also proposes stringent standards—not currently met by any research laboratory—for any future research involving chimps.
Also this week, Chimp Haven in Louisiana welcomed the first nine of the 111 federally-owned chimpanzees already scheduled to be retired from the New Iberia Research Center, at which abuse of chimps (above and beyond the cruelty implicit in captivity and experimentation) was recently documented by HSUS.
The institutionalized use of chimps as research subjects in the U.S. dates back to the 1930s, and the U.S. is now the only country to continue to imprison populations of chimpanzees for purposes of experimentation. A gripping website, “The First 100,” painstakingly documents the first hundred individual chimps violated in this way in the USA, including names, pictures, dates of birth and death, and the experiments done to them. Here at the sanctuary we know how easy it can be for individual abused animals to be lost in their categories—”poultry”, “cattle,” “lab rats”—and how important it is to resist that erasure. Please do visit, and spend time with, that website, bearing witness to those particular lives and losses.
Those early experiments on chimpanzees included radiation exposure and gruesome psycho-surgery. Harry Harlow’s infamous maternal deprivation experiments were primarily perpetrated on monkeys, but infant chimpanzees also were subjected to what many people consider the most cruel experiments in the history of psychology.
The horrors have continued. Many of the chimps at Chimp Haven have hepatitis or HIV, having been deliberately infected with those viruses. (And—truly shockingly—new maternal deprivation experiments are in the works at University of Wisconsin.)
Yet, the years of struggle against vivisection in general and chimp experimentation in particular have not been in vain. Anti-vivisection activism has taken virtually every form imaginable, from polite argumentation in scholarly journals to direct liberation of animals from laboratories. There are too many organizations doing extraordinarily good work at every level for me to begin to list them all, so—since we started out as a chicken sanctuary and we’re here in Vermont— let me just give a shout-out to the New England Ant-Vivisection Society (NEAVS), which very helpfully funded the very useful United Poultry Concerns brochure, “The Experimental Use of Chickens and Other Birds in Biomedical and Agricultural Research” (the printed version of which is called “Nobody Knows How Many” because birds aren’t even counted for or covered by federal regulations concerning treatment of animals used in research).
This week’s good news follows from years of careful work by a multiplicity of individuals and organizations. It’s not enough. It’s not nearly enough. But it’s not nothing. To the chimps who will go to sanctuary rather than be subjected to continued experimentation, it means everything. And it may turn out to be the first tremor of a paradigm shift in the use of animals in research—not only chimps but also cats and chickens and all of the other countless and uncounted animals behind bars at college campuses, government-funded research facilities, and for-profit labs.
While it’s still too soon to tell if that’s true, it does seem safe to hope for the chimps. And so, also this week, a companion website to “The First 100” has appeared. “The Last 1000” lists and looks forward to the release of the last one thousand chimpanzees in captivity for purposes of research here in the United States. The name of each chimp is color-coded to identify the research facility where she or he is still held. Our goal is to turn each of those names green, signaling that she or he has been released to sanctuary.
What can you do? First, don’t forget about the animals locked up in laboratories. Remember that vegan also means avoiding products tested on animals. (You might find that convincing your friends and family members to take that step is easier than getting them to change their diets, so why not start there? Cruelty-free shopping guides are widely available and make it easy to make that compassionate choice.) Next, if you’re a student or a parent, find out if schools you attend or support perform experiments on animals in classrooms or as part of research projects. If so, join or start a local group and work to end vivisection where you are.
As for the chimps, the NIH report and its recommendations are open for public comment for the next 60 days before the Director of NIH makes the final decision whether to implement the recommendations. If you wish to comment, please read the instructions (and the report itself!) carefully before submitting your input, understanding that what you say will become part of the permanent federal record concerning this government matter.
Another crucial question is whether Chimp Haven will be able to raise the building funds needed to house all of the chimps who could be retired there. Having just undertaken our own expansion, we know how costly such projects can be. So I, personally, am going to institute my own “chump change for chimps” campaign. From now until whenever all of those 111 chimps are safely at Chimp Haven, I’m going to toss my change in a jar every night. When the jar fills up, I’ll take it to the credit union and send the check to Chimp Haven. You could help them out too, if only by liking their Facebook page.