Posted on behalf of Katia Moskvitch.
Tosha, Sassy, Paula, Julius and their 106 friends will now be munching peppers and bananas without worries of being used to test new drugs. The chimpanzees, formerly used for biomedical research by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) facility New Iberia Research Center (NIRC) in Louisiana, have now arrived at Chimp Haven, a federally funded sanctuary in Keithville, Louisiana.
“Our dreams have finally been realized for these amazing animals,” said Chimp Haven’s president Cathy Willis Spraetz in a statement.
The move comes two years after the NIH announced it would retire the NIRC’s 110 chimps, following an undercover video investigation by the Humane Society of the United States that exposed animal mistreatment at the facility (see ‘NIH retires research chimps at troubled facility‘).
Initially, the NIH had planned to send only ten of the animals to Chimp Haven and the rest to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio. The NIH changed its mind after the sanctuary embarked on an extensive campaign that resulted in making extra room at Chimp Haven to accommodate many more animals and raising money for their care.
Although experiments on chimps contributed to several medical breakthroughs, such as vaccines against hepatitis B and polio, recent scientific developments have created viable alternatives to primate research.
The retirement plan for the NIRC’s chimps was just the first step in scaling back the NIH’s primate research. In June 2013, the NIH announced it would retire to sanctuary nearly all of its research chimpanzees, about 310 of them, leaving only up to 50 for scientific experiments. NIH director Francis Collins said at the time that chimps, as humans’ closest living relatives in the animal kingdom, “deserve special respect”.
The decision followed a landmark report by the US Institute of Medicine published in December 2011, which outlined strict criteria for the use of chimps in biomedical and behavioural research.