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Should Chimps be Bred?

January 5, 2012

We’ve had several posts on animal welfare, including Frank’s guest post on captive wildlife, and research for animal genetic health. Here’s a crucial case: chimpanzees.

In 2007 the American NIH supposedly finalized its moratorium on breeding captive chimpanzees. (The rule did not prohibit breeding; it ended NIH funding of breeding.) The decision was hailed by animal rights advocates, although some scientists argued the need for chimps for research on hepatitis C and autoimmune diseases such as arthritis and Crohn’s.

Then this fall it turned out that one major research facility, the New Iberia Research Center, has all this time been breeding chimps, including NIH-owned chimps. The Center says it met the letter of the law, using other funds. NIH says it had no idea, although the center provides several chimps to NIH annually for research on hepatitis C and other viral diseases.

So what should be done with all these chimps? Do we need them for research? (Honest question; as a microbiologist, I know that many of us are alive thanks to primate-based research, such as vaccine development.)

On the other hand, if chimp research is wrong:
Should the chimps all be “retired,” as one law says already? What should retirement look like?
Some  argue that the research chimps should all have been sterilized. But would that be “fair” to the chimps? If they possess near-human society, is it fair to deprive them of the opportunity to raise families?

  1. January 6, 2012 7:42 am

    One of the things I see anyone who has to work with caged animals do is to cage off their feelings, at least a bit. What gets bad is when such caging of feeling is institutionalized and bureaucratized. I’d like to see individual researchers get more individual oversight, perhaps as a rotating series of scheduled site visits from other researchers.

    From what little I’ve read, the worst thing about chimp research is when the mothers are not allowed to nurture their babies. The worst thing about “retiring” chimps is that after we treat them in ways that make them more dangerous, it’s difficult to find anyone with the time, money, and patience to do anything except keep them in cages for the rest of their lives.

    • January 7, 2012 8:19 pm

      Yes, the chimeric monkeys are an interesting advance. However, they are not the first “genetically modified” monkeys (with recombinant DNA); that’s been done for a while.

      A chimera has cells from two different sources, but they never exchange DNA. In humans, natural chimeras–even including male/female–are well known.

  2. SFreader permalink
    January 7, 2012 11:37 am

    Has anyone bothered to ask animal researchers what type of ‘retirement’ their test animals need? From my undergrad experience, I know that it’s possible to get attached to one’s experimental rats/mice, so I can only imagine how emotionally difficult it might be for a researcher using primates to see their animals ‘retired’ into (probably) less caring/nurturing hands. Many years ago there was a big-name primate (neuroscience) researcher whose lab had been broken into by PETA – supposedly to ‘free’ the animals. It turns out that these primates suffered far worse trauma from their enforced freedom than from their ‘lab animal’ experience. Also – more primates died while under PETA ‘care’ than in this researcher’s labs.

    • January 7, 2012 8:16 pm

      Certainly “retirement” should involves some kind of reserve. I think a lot is known now about the kind of environment that is healthy for primates; one with some diversity of terrain, and where they have to work at it to “find” food.

      You’re right that PETA “rescue” attempts offer little practical benefit for the animals rescued. However, historically, PETA acts had a lot to do with laws getting passed that required more humane treatment of research animals.

  3. SFreader permalink
    January 8, 2012 1:04 pm

    My primary concern with retired research animals, particularly primates, is emotional abandonment.

  4. January 9, 2012 12:33 pm

    The good sanctuaries in the US provide an excellent home for chimps (and other exotics) – However, many places call themselves sanctuaries, regardless of their philosophy, because they know they can get donations that way. It takes a little work to identify the better facilities but a start is that they don’t breed animals and they provide a lifelong home.

    Quality sanctuary accreditation is fairly new as well so there are good places that aren’t accredited, but if they are GFAS accredited that is a sign they are a quality facility. The largest chimp sanctuary in the world is located in Florida (Save the Chimps) and their director, with six other sanctuary directors whose facilities house primates, formed the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance to create standards and to help the public identify quality primate sanctuaries and you can learn more about sanctuaries from their webpage and facebook site

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