Unfortunately for chimpanzees, there almost eerie similarities to humans makes their study in laboratory settings nearly necessary as we look to live forever, eradicate disease or simply look pretty (cosmetics). But, in a feel good story similar to “Project X” with Matthew Broderick going back to 1987, over 200 lab chimps are set to get a reprieve and head from a lab in Lousiana to a sanctuary in northern Georgia.
“Project Chimps” to host former lab chimps
Genesis, Gertrude, Gracie, Jennifer, Latricia, Buttercup, Charisse, Emma and another 200 chimps, which were born in a lab and been involved in a medical testing for over a decade at the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana, will soon be finding themselves truly enjoying their remaining days in the “jungles” of northern Georgia thanks to the work of the group “Project Chimps.”
The move will see smiles on the faces of many who advocate for our “cousins” who are, rightfully or not, of the mind that chimpanzees have no place as guinea pigs in medical research.
“This marks the end of privately funded research on chimpanzees in the U.S. That’s a huge deal,” Sarah Baeckler, who leads Project Chimps, recently told CBS News. “That’s the end of an era for these guys.”
Chimpanzees are the closest relative to humans so their sacrifices have saved many a human life often at the expense of their own but those days are finally coming to an end from the private sector. They are without question the smartest of the primates and while valuable, it’s difficult to not be heartened with the new life they will now have an oppportunity to live.
Lab chimps deemed “endangered species” in 2015
Last June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deemed captive chimps endangered species status, which essentially made their use in medical testing illegal. While numerous researchers were perplexed by the move, few were very vocal at the risk of being demonized by the public at large. However, the labeling of our cousins as endangered still allows for research that is deemed beneficial to wild chimpanzees which was not the case at the New Iberia Research Center.
In the same year that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deemed captive chimps endangered species, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) went a stop futher and made the decision to put its own moratorium on chimpanzees that included amnesty for 50 chimps that were born in captivity yet never used in medical research.
Frankly and on the surface, you could argue that the NIH made the decision based on animal advocacy and goodwill towards the captive animals but it could certainly be argued that this was no more than a cost cutting move as the care and feeding of 50 of our closest relatives doesn’t make a lot of sense as no one had asked the NIH to used their animals for medical research in nearly three years’ time.
While there are surely a number of people that don’t care for any animals being used in medical research, it’s difficult to put rats and bunnies in the same league as chimpanzees and other apes given their genetic similarities and intelligence levels.
Somewhat ironically, the NIH chimps will be relocated to Chimp Haven in Louisiana but the Louisiana-based New Iberia Research Center will be shipping theirs three states away to Northern Georgia.
“[O]ur sole purpose is to provide care to the chimps and give them choices on what they would like to eat, who they would like to spend time with, what toys they’d like to play with, etc.,” said Baeckler to the Huffington Post in a recent interview. “After quarantine, they will also have the ability to go out into the open-top enclosed space to spend time under the trees and foraging through grass. We really can’t wait for that moment.”
The chimps affiliated with NIH are also set to be transferred to a sanctuary – the federally-funded Chimp Haven in Louisiana – but the process has been slow thus far. The institute announced that it would begin the transfer process in 2013, when it began phasing out biomedical research on chimps. But as of January 2016, nearly 400 chimps remained in the labs, The Washington Post reported.