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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Saving Chimps and Tax Dollars

I attended a briefing this morning on Capitol Hill with legislative leaders and animal advocates to make a push for H.R. 1326, the Great Ape Protection Act, a bill seeking to phase out invasive research on chimpanzees and retire government-owned chimps to sanctuaries. HSUS president and CEO Wayne Pacelle led off the event by showing video footage from the nine-month HSUS investigation into the New Iberia Research Center in southwestern Louisiana, one of the world’s largest primate laboratories. 

Chimp in Lab
Approximately 1,000 chimps are languishing  
in laboratories across the United States.

The Hill staffers and others in the packed room were jarred by the scenes showing primates engaging in self-mutilation by tearing gaping wounds into their arms and legs, infant monkeys screaming as they are forcibly removed from their mothers, and a researcher hitting a monkey three times in the teeth with a pipe. Some of the elderly chimpanzees at NIRC have been warehoused in laboratories for decades—including Karen, who was caught in the wild as a baby in 1958 and has been confined in a barren lab since the Eisenhower Administration.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), a scientist who previously worked with chimps and a lead sponsor of the bill, spoke about the inefficiency of using these highly intelligent and social creatures in research, and the innovation and ingenuity of scientists that can get us beyond the status quo. Dr. Theo Capaldo, president of Project R&R, added that chimps have not proven to be useful models for diseases such as AIDS, and that she has seen symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in chimps who have been in long-term isolation housing in labs.

At a time when our country is acutely aware of an economic crisis, taxpayers are footing the bill for $20-25 million each year just warehousing chimps in barren laboratory cages, many of whom are not even being used in active experiments. There are about 1,000 chimps remaining in U.S. labs—half of them federally owned—and despite the inhumane treatment of animals and the fleecing of taxpayers they are just stuck on a bureaucratic treadmill. It’s less costly to retire these animals to sanctuaries, and it’s a step not only for animal welfare but also for fiscal responsibility. Dr. Linda Brent, director of Chimp Haven, estimates that moving the 500 government-owned chimps to sanctuaries would save taxpayers $173 million over the entire lifespans of the current population of the animals.

She also spoke about how former research chimps thrive in a sanctuary setting: even after decades of laboratory confinement, these long-lived animals can finally have peace and dignity in their remaining years. And there was hardly a dry eye in the house when Gloria Grow, founder and director of the Fauna Foundation, showed a moving video of Tom, a former lab chimp, climbing a tree and enjoying his new sanctuary life.

It’s time for Congress to take action on this legislation, which not only protects chimps but also stops government waste. Please watch this video, and then ask your U.S. Representative to support the Great Ape Protection Act.

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