The U.S. Government Will Retire Its Remaining Lab Chimpanzees In A Move Hailed By Animal Rights Activists

"Invasive research on chimpanzees is no longer something that makes sense."

Following the release of hundreds of them in 2013, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will retire its remaining 50 research chimpanzees. Announced Wednesday night, director Dr. Francis Collins said that there had not been an application to use the primates for the past two and a half years, and there was no apparent urgent need to study our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. The chimps were used to test experimental vaccines, drugs, and other treatments

"It's time to say we've reached the point in the U.S. where invasive research on chimpanzees is no longer something that makes sense," Dr. Collins said

Currently kept at three facilities in Texas and New Mexico, the chimpanzees will be sent to Chimp Haven sanctuary in Keithville, Louisiana over time. But Dr. Collins noted that they had only 25 slots open at the moment, adding that transferring all the primates to Chimp Haven could take years.

The decision was hailed by animal rights activists, who said they would help find sanctuary space for the animals, the Associated Press reported. 

The decision was a long time coming. In 2011, at the request of the NIH, the Institute of Medicine released a report on the study of the agency's need to use chimpanzees in biomedical and behavioral research. The report showed that most research involving the primates were unnecessary. 

iStock/gavinchapman65
iStock/gavinchapman65

As a result, in June 2013, the NIH sent hundreds of chimpanzees into retirement. The remaining 50 were kept in case of essential research that couldn't be conducted any other way. 

Then in June this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put chimpanzees on its "endangered species" list, which meant that any medical research involving the animals would require a permit. 

Cover image via Windzephr / iStock