By Kristina Pepelko
This year has been a positive one for U.S. primates. In June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a rule that would extend protection to captive chimps by classifying them, like their wild counterparts, as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
Then this fall, nine lucky baboons, age 13 to 23, were finally removed from their lab cages and sent to Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary, where they’re living out the rest of their days in peace, freedom and comfort.
Now, we can celebrate another great victory for U.S. primates. Just last week, President Obama signed the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection Act into law, which facilitates the transfer of nearly all research chimps to sanctuaries.
The bipartisan-supported amendment to the Public Health Service Act frees up spending restrictions on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for chimp retirement care. According to the National Journal, a 2000 law placed a $30 million spending cap on the NIH for the care of retired research chimps living in reserve sanctuaries – a cap that reached its limit this November.
50 chimps will remain with the NIH but 310 others will be retired to sanctuaries around the U.S. over the next five years. Federal funding will be given to these sanctuaries to help them expand and care for their new chimp residents. The funding will cost about half as much as it did when the chimps were housed in NIH facilities.
The Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection Act signals a larger victory at hand too.
NIH Director Francis S. Collins told Aljazeera America that “new scientific methods and technologies have rendered [chimp\ use in research largely unnecessary.” A 2011 study by the Institute of Medicine backs up this statement, noting a similar conclusion about the “decreasing scientific need for chimpanzee studies.”
The new act provides a reason to celebrate and to hope that we might soon see the end of all chimp research in the U.S.