The National Institutes of Health (NIH), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services , issued a report on Tuesday recommending how to use chimpanzees for future research, while retiring almost all of the 451 chimpanzees that are now at research facilities owned by the NIH.
The report concluded that although the chimpanzee has been a valuable animal model in the past, most current biomedical use of chimpanzees is unnecessary, and that chimps should be used only when public health is on the line, no other animals are appropriate, and ethical experiments on humans are not possible.
At the same time, the report says that chimpanzees could still serve an important role in some areas of research but in these areas, the research must be governed by a set of principles and criteria. These principles and criteria address the necessity of the research for answering important public health questions, the need to use the chimpanzee model to answer these questions, and whether the chimpanzee-housing and the research conditions are appropriate for humans’ closest relative.
The chimpanzees’ environment should not only allow, but more importantly, promote the full range of natural chimpanzee behaviors: Chimpanzees must be housed in environments that provide outdoor access year round and have the opportunity to climb at least 20 feet vertically. Moreover, their environment must provide enough climbing opportunities and space to allow all members of larger groups to travel, feed, and rest in elevated spaces.
“At last, our federal government understands a chimpanzee should no more live in a laboratory than a human should live in a phone booth,” said Justin Goodman, the laboratory investigations department director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Chimpanzees must have the opportunity to live in sufficiently large, complex, multi-male, multi-female social groupings; and no chimpanzee should be required to live alone for extended periods of time. All personnel working with chimpanzees must receive training in core institutional values promoting psychological and behavioral well-being of chimpanzees in their care.
Future invasive research using these animals must strictly adhere to the recommendations. Invasive research should only be performed when human health is at issue and there is absolutely no other way to do the research.
In developing its recommendations, the NIH solicited and reviewed public comments, considered the scientific use of chimpanzees in the 30 currently funded projects that involve chimpanzees, obtained advice from 11 external experts, and conducted field trips to 7 facilities that care for and house chimpanzees.