Chimpanzees play valuable role in biomedical research

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Rep. Bartlett’s endorsement of a “contingency clause” in GAPCSA that would allow for chimpanzee research in future emergency situations disregards the consequences of dismantling the infrastructure that currently supports chimpanzee research. An outright prohibition on the use of chimpanzees now, even with a so-called “emergency” provision that would allow for their use if future conditions warranted it, is unworkable. The infrastructure to support chimpanzee research could not be re-created in a timely way, which would result in lost human lives.
 
Rep. Bartlett says that “ . . . sanctuaries provide these highly intelligent and social animals with a natural environment far superior for the study of their behavior than laboratories that induce stress, fear and other states that negatively affect research results.”
 
In fact, research facilities that house chimpanzees for research have excellent indoor-outdoor group housing facilities and highly sophisticated programs of behavioral and environmental enrichment. Unlike sanctuaries, research facilities have large veterinary, animal care, and behavioral services staffs, as well as extensive clinic and hospital facilities that provide specialized resources critical to the health and well-being of the chimpanzees.
 
Finally, Rep. Bartlett says that “The federal government currently pays $66 per chimpanzee per day for the maintenance of the Alamogordo Primate Facility in New Mexico, for instance; a sanctuary with a similar or larger population size spends approximately $43 per chimpanzee per day.”
 
Despite the claim that maintaining great apes in research settings costs the federal government more than retiring them to sanctuaries, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that it spends an average of $34 per day per chimpanzee in research facilities and $44 per day per chimpanzee in the federal sanctuary facility operated by Chimp Haven. In fact, moving the chimpanzees from Alamogordo to a research facility, as the NIH has proposed to do, would save the taxpayers $2 million per year.
 
Clearly, the right choice now is not to ban chimpanzees in biomedical research — both in terms of its costs and, more importantly, in terms of saving human lives.
 
Abee is director, Michale E. Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
 
Twilley is acting director, New Iberia Research Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafeyette.
 
VandeBerg is director, Southwest National Primate Research Center, and chief scientific officer at Texas Biomedical Research Institute
 
Stuart Zola is director, Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University.