NIH proposal would send hundreds of research chimps into retirement

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is weighing a proposal to sharply curtail the federal government's research involving chimpanzees and allow most of 451 primates designated for scientific studies to live out their lives in a sanctuary.

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Beginning Wednesday, the public will have two months to comment on the recommendations set forth by a working group commissioned in 2010 by the NIH.

The proposal calls for the end of 30 separate behavioral and medical research programs involving chimpanzees.

“There is no compelling scientific reason to maintain a sufficiently large reserve population of chimpanzees suitable and/or available for infectious disease research, even in the case of a national emergency,” the working group wrote in a report issued this week.

NIH should keep roughly 50 chimps for “future potential research,” the group said.

It also recommended measures to make room for retiring apes in the government’s sanctuary system in Louisiana.

“Planning should start immediately to expand current facilities to accommodate these chimpanzees,” the report said.

The Humane Society of the United States praised the recommendations. Kathleen Conlee, the group’s vice president of animal research issues, urged the government to “move away from invasive chimpanzee experimentation and release these animals to the most appropriate setting available – sanctuary.”

NIH is expected to make a decision on the proposal in late March.