Good news! The National Institutes of Health has announced it will no longer use chimps for medical studies — and the last 50 chimpanzees in the agency’s care are getting ready to retire to a federal sanctuary. There’s just one catch: the chimps will have to wait until there’s room to house them and some chimps have died while waiting on the list.
The NIH had originally retired 300 research chimps in 2013, keeping the last 50 on hand in case of a public health emergency. But research using chimps has largely fallen out of favor with the scientific community. In fact, no one has even requested permission to use the remaining chimps for animal testing in the past two and a half years. NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins admitted as much in an interview with The Associated Press, saying, “It’s time to say we’ve reached the point in the U.S. where invasive research on chimpanzees is no longer something that makes sense.”
Unfortunately, when the animals will be removed from government facilities is unclear. A CNN report in February found that only six of the animals officially retired in 2013 had actually made it out of government labs and into sanctuaries, due to the lack of space. Dozens of chimps have died on the waiting list, some intentionally infected with deadly diseases like HIV or hepatitis.
Chimp Haven, the Louisiana sanctuary currently being used to house the lucky few, is only equipped to handle 25 additional chimps on top of the 200 already in its care. Director Cathy Spraetz is planning to seek additional funding in early 2016 to expand the available accommodations.