US National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Francis Collins announced that the institute will retire the last 50 research chimpanzees to sanctuaries. The measure arrives two years after the retirement of 310 chimps in 2013, following recommendations of the National Academy of Medicine. The institute will also stop funding the experiments with chimpanzees they do not own, but are currently supporting.
The 50 chimps were maintained for public health emergency cases, but Collins argues that in the last five years the need for chimp experiments was almost null. On the other side, animal research advocate and lobbyist Frankie Trull stated that the measure undermines research efforts towards a better public health.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) gave endangered-species status to chimpanzees in June, allowing only non-invasive experiments except for those aimed to benefit chimpanzees in the wild.
The problem of space in sanctuaries
All research chimpanzees will be relocated to Chimp Haven in Keithville, Louisiana, which is almost out of space for new animals. With a limited budget, the authorities ponder whether it is necessary to construct new facilities: given the advanced age of some chimps, they could be nearly empty in a few years. Moreover, moving the animals to new facilities would cause them a lot of stress and, ironically, NIH centers have higher welfare standards than wildlife sanctuaries.
The US organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has declared their relief and happiness with the measure, after years of pressure to end animal research.
A few researchers are very unhappy with the measure. Scientists currently trying to develop an Ebola vaccine for wild chimps are feel that their research will be threatened in the future.