Chimpanzee Testing to Resume?

nasa chimpanzee A chimpanzee at work for NASA

Animal testing is a tricky issue. Given my love for animals I’d normally think I’d come down firmly against it, but it’s not that easy. For a while I worked for a medical journal, specifically, an immunology journal. Immunologists are the ones who research and cure diseases. Although it was hard to read over the studies in which they used animals for testing, their findings were always applied to fighting terrible diseases.

But none of that is the case here. The Huffington Post published an article on August 23 examining the plight of more than 200 chimpanzees from Holloman Air Force base. These chimpanzees, some of which are 60-year-old NASA veterans, were officially released from experimentation by Congress in 2001. Now, the article claims, the National Institutes of Health are moving to resume experimentation on these animals.

Before I go on I have to clarify two things: first, Congress’ 2001 move applied to all chimpanzees, not just those currently under question; and second, the article was written by PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. For all that I might have common sympathies with PETA, I rarely agree with their methods and radicalism, instead vastly preferring to follow the efforts of the Humane Society of the United States. So even though the bottom line of this article resonates with me, I can’t help being a bit suspicious of the veracity of all of its claims.

Still, the article tells a story I can easily believe; life after experimentation for the chimpanzees wasn’t easy. Although charities and other groups were able to remove some of the animals into better situations, for most of them retirement meant life in a tiny concrete-slab cell. It’s fantastic that the animals were no longer being experimented on, but their lives contained no spark or stimulation.

I get depressed going to zoos where I see bears pacing in their dull concrete cages, or when I walk through the halls at an animal shelter. But at least the animals at these zoos are probably played with by their keepers, and the situation for animals at shelters is hopefully temporary.

But that isn’t the case for these chimpanzees, primates of much higher intelligence who need social interaction and mental stimulation even more than the dogs and cats I’m already so sad to see in shelters (as necessary as that is).

The point of the article, I guess, is to detail how much these animals have suffered, are still suffering, and how much more they might in the future if the NIH continue with the supposed plan. The article also serves as a plea for something more to be done for the chimpanzees than condemning them to prison conditions for the rest of their lives.

What I have the hardest time understanding is how this supposed plan of the NIH’s can possibly exist if Congress banned chimpanzee testing almost a decade ago. But laws can be overturned or rewritten, and I suppose that must be the case here, if again, PETA can be believed.

Like I intimated earlier, I don’t entirely trust what Newkirk has to say. But I can believe, if nothing else, that “retired” chimpanzees are left to slowly fade away in awful conditions. It seems like so little, and definitely not enough, to sign petitions and make donations to help these poor animals. But usually that’s all most people can do, so I just have to hope that it is enough.

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*(This image by NASA is licensed under the NASA Attribution License.)