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Status of Chimpanzee Biomedical Research

In June 2015 the US Fish & Wildlife Services uplisted all chimpanzees, both captive and wild to endangered. Before this time only wild chimpanzees were listed as endangered, the captive ones were listed as threatened. This split listing facilitated invasive biomedical research on this species. The new listed changed that. At the same time the National Institute of Health was reviewing the need for chimpanzees in research.  In November 2015 the National Institute of Health ended federal funding for the use of chimpanzees in invasive research. 

There are still hundreds of chimpanzees waiting for retirement and questions remain about where they will go and how they will funded, therefore, many chimpanzees, while no longer being actively experimented on, are still stuck living in lab facilities. Also, monkeys continue to be used in biomedical research, still suffering under the same conditions in research labs. Work still needs to be done to protect monkeys and to ensure that the retired chimpanzees are moved to sanctuaries where they can live the rest of their lives in relative comfort.

Conditions in Biomedical Research

Most of the chimpanzees who live in biomedical research facilities live in isolation and fear. Biomedical procedures they endured and simply their living in the facilities are inhumane and invasive.

Most chimpanzees who live in this restricted environment show signs of stress and deprivation, such as inflicting wounds on themselves, developing stereotypies (e.g. continual rocking), becoming very withdrawn, and even throwing feces (all are behaviors indicative of psychological pain and distress).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 sometimes 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 and impersonable. 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 were often taken away shortly after birth and also used for research.

Chimpanzees in lab facilities 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.

In the invasive testing they endured, chimpanzees were "knocked down" (anesthetized with dart guns) prior to medical procedures. There were signs to warn the chimpanzees of the up-coming anesthetization. A red flag was placed on the chimpanzee's cage to tell the technicians not to feed that chimpanzee breakfast. There were usually two doors to every barracks. The food generally arrived through one door and the animal technicians arrived through a different door dressed in surgical masks and jackets. The chimpanzee was then "knocked-down" so they could be taken out of their cage and transported to the laboratory. Even though the chimpanzee was anesthetized, they were still able to hear what was going on and what was being said about them.

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

Learn about Tatu & Loulis's home at Fauna Foundation's website!