An advisory group has called on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to retire most of the nearly 700 chimps it owns or supports.
NIH’s Council of Councils also recommended the medical research agency drastically cut back on the various medical studies involving the use of chimpanzees, while making certain those chimps that are still being studied are kept in proper living conditions.
The recommendations, contained in an 84-page report, were in response to a December 2011 review by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), which concluded that while the chimpanzee was a valuable animal model in the past, most current biomedical use of the animal is unnecessary.
The IOM suggested that while chimpanzees could still serve an important role in some research areas, a set of guidelines, principles and criteria must be established to govern that research.
Using the IOM report for guidance, NIH’s advisory group recommended the majority of NIH-owned chimpanzees be retired and transferred to facilities within the federal sanctuary system, while immediately planning to ensure proper accommodations and treatment for the chimps.
The advisory group suggested a small population of about 50 chimpanzees be maintained by the agency for future potential research as long it meets the principles and guidelines contained within the IOM report.
The report stressed that animals remaining in NIH custody should be kept in “ethologically appropriate” settings, which include large, complex social groups, year-round outdoor access and more than 1,000 square feet of living space per chimpanzee.
The size and placement of this colony, according to the NIH group, should also be reassessed about every five years to ensure a colony of chimps is still needed and that the animals aren’t overused.
With fewer chimpanzees being made available to scientists for research, the advisory group recommended NIH to encourage and support the development and refinement of other approaches, especially alternative animal models, such as genetically altered mice, for research on new, emerging and reemerging diseases.
The new recommendations follow last month’s NIH decision to move all 100 of the federally-owned chimpanzees at the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana to Chimp Haven, a federal chimpanzee sanctuary in nearby Keithville, Louisiana, over the next 12 to 15 months.
A leading animal rights group praised the recommendations.
“The Humane Society of the United States is extremely pleased that these experts confirm what the public has been urging: move away from invasive chimpanzee experimentation and release these animals to the most appropriate setting available – sanctuary,” said Kathleen Conlee, vice president of animal research issues at the Humane Society. “There are top-notch sanctuaries in the U.S., including federal sanctuary Chimp Haven, that have the capacity to expand and we are ready to work with the government to provide these chimpanzees with the retirement they so greatly deserve.”
The NIH will make a final determination on the recommendations after a 60-day public comment period that begins today and runs until March 23, 2013.