The National Institutes of Health will soon make a decision about the fate of government-owned chimpanzees after a panel of experts made several recommendations, including a phase-out of current biomedical research on chimpanzees and the retirement of more than 300 chimpanzees to sanctuaries ("Government spends millions on resort for retired research chimps," Web, Thursday). If enacted, these recommendations will save millions of taxpayer dollars because sanctuaries are less expensive than housing the animals in research labs. Sanctuaries also provide care and housing that is significantly better than the care and housing given at a laboratory.
Our government made a major mistake in the 1980s by breeding hundreds of long-living chimpanzees in a failed attempt to use these animals to study HIV-AIDS. By the mid-1990s, a National Research Council committee was tasked with determining how to address the "surplus" of chimpanzees in laboratories. The committee concluded that euthanizing the chimpanzees was unethical, and recommended that the government establish retirement sanctuaries. This finding ultimately led to the creation of the national sanctuary system, which is funded through a public-private partnership. Public opinion was right in line with this recommendation, with nearly 80 percent of Americans in support of creating sanctuary space for chimpanzees.
There are chimpanzees, like Flo at the Alamogordo Primate Facility in New Mexico, who have been in research labs since the time of President John F. Kennedy. These chimps can live up to 60 years, costing federal taxpayers for decades. There are two choices: Pay a higher cost to keep chimpanzees under the management of a lab or save money and let them live in a more natural and peaceful setting with their companions. The best choice is evident. We now hope that the National Institutes of Health and Congress will do what is right by the taxpayers and the chimpanzees.
Humane Society of the United States
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