Tatu and Loulis

Chimpanzees in Biomedical Research


Most of the chimpanzees who live in biomedical research facilities live in isolation and fear. They are subjected to treatment that is inhumane and invasive. Even though free-living chimpanzees are an endangered species, captive chimpanzees are only classified as threatened. Thus, it is legal to conduct invasive tests on them and to breed them for such purposes.

Most chimpanzees who live in this restricted environment show signs of stress and deprivation. They inflict wounds on themselves, develop stereotypies (e.g. continual rocking), become very withdrawn, and even throw feces (all are behaviors indicative of psychological pain and distress).

Many chimpanzees in biomedical facilities live in cages no larger than 5'x5'x7'. They may be suspended off the ground, to make it easier for animal technicians to clean excrement and other material from the room. However, the chimpanzees living in such cages do not even have the opportunity to touch the ground. The facilities are very sterile. Chimpanzees often have little or no contact with other chimpanzees; they may see others through the cages, but rarely share cages with one other. This is despite the fact that chimpanzees are very social beings. Infant chimpanzees born to mothers in biomedical research are often taken away shortly after birth and are also used for research.

Because chimpanzees are 98.77% genetically identical to us, they are used as animal models to test human diseases. However, the 1.23% difference is a much bigger gap than researchers want people to believe. Chimpanzees are infected with diseases like hepatitis and HIV, yet their immune system does not respond to all diseases like a human's immune system would. For example, chimpanzees can carry (or be a host of) HIV, however, they do not exhibit any of the symptoms of the disease. In essence, chimpanzees are faced with the trauma of infection, liver biopsies, blood draws, frequent anesthesia, and then are often incarcerated because they cannot be reintroduced to chimpanzee groups who are not infected. The chimpanzees' contact with human caretakers is also restricted due to their infectious status.

Chimpanzees are "knocked down" (anesthetized with dart guns) prior to medical procedures. There are signs to warn the chimpanzees of the up-coming anesthetization. A red flag is placed on the chimpanzee's cage to tell the technicians not to feed that chimpanzee breakfast. There are usually two doors to every barracks. The food generally arrives through one door and the animal technicians arrive through a different door dressed in surgical masks and jackets. The chimpanzee is then "knocked-down" so he/she can be taken out of his/her cage and transported to the laboratory. Even though the chimpanzee is anesthetized, he/she is still able to hear what is going on and what is being said about him/her.

Many times when chimpanzees are not being used in a procedure, they are referred to by their given names. If they are being used for a medical procedure or study, they are referred to by the numbers they were assigned. This helps to set the chimpanzee apart as a thing instead of a being. Using numbers instead of names helps researchers and caretakers emotionally remove themselves from the physical, social, and psychological reality of the chimpanzees' lives.

Chimpanzees in biomedical research are rarely provided appropriate objects to enrich their lives or exercise their minds. Some chimpanzees may be given only a single object of enrichment. Chimpanzees are an intelligent species. Just like humans whose social, intellectual, and physical needs are not met, chimpanzees exhibit severe behavioral symptoms of stress; for example, withdrawal, self-mutilation, and aggression.