January 22, 2013

Chimp Sanctuaries And the NIH Need Help Now

On January 18, 2013, National Public Radio (NPR) reported about retiring research chimpanzees from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In the article, NPR explained that the NIH is awaiting recommendations from a working group on what to do with its current research chimps. NIH suspects that the group may recommend retiring a lot more chimps. For animal lovers like me, this is definitely super happy news, but the problem is that the NIH struggles to find homes for these chimps.

Let me just get my soap box out of the way. I do not like research being done on animals. I think it is cruel. However, I understand that some research cannot be done on humans thus scientists do the best they can. Organizations like the NIH work with concerned parties to give research animals, like these chimps, as good a life as they can during their research and testing time. The NIH also works with groups once the chimps retire so that they can have the best life possible for what is left of their retired years.

I am not excusing animal testing; however, that is not the issue I want to discuss. The issue stems from what happens after the testing. In 2000, Congress passed the CHIMP Act, which put a spending cap of $30 million (USD) on what the NIH can spend on chimp sanctuaries. As of the NPR report, the NIH was up to $29 million (USD). If more chimps are deemed in need of retirement, the NIH could be in a predicament.

The chimp sanctuaries need money to build more areas for new chimps, to feed, bath, and medicate chimps, and to simply cover overhead costs. Some chimp sanctuaries do this via private donation, but when it costs about $15,000 (USD) per a chimp, that is a lot of donation. If the NIH is running out of money to help support these chimp sanctuaries, then future retired chimps may be in quite a bind.

An example of this bind happened recently. About 100 (well 111 to be specific) chimps needed a new home due to retirement, but the NIH recognized its financial problem. So officials deemed the 111 chimps ineligible for experiments, but could only send a small number to sanctuary thus sending the others to a different lab that had space to house them. Even if they were not used for experiments, to be cooped up in a cage would be cruel.

Thankfully, a sanctuary in Louisiana, Chimp Haven, volunteered to take all 111 retired chimps. To do so, they pledged to raise upward of $5 million (USD) along with the help of other nonprofit organizations since the NIH is almost at its cap. Chimp Haven hopes to have all 111 chimps by the end of this year. But what about the possibility of more chimps that may come from the NIH and working group recommendation?

In order for the NIH to continue to help chimp sanctuaries, Congress will have to act.

Haven’t those chimps committed enough to the well-being of our nation? They have been used in countless experiments and research for any number of issues and diseases. It is time that they be taken care of. They should retire and should go to a chimp sanctuary where they can roam and play and climb and receive the care they need. If we must use animal testing, then we must then be responsible with those chimps’ lives afterwards.

I hope for the chimp’s sake and for the sake of the NIH scientists that help will come to them all.

Image Credit: Everett Collection / Shutterstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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