Chimpanzees in Medical Laboratories

More than a thousand chimpanzees are still being used for invasive medical research in laboratories across America. Find out how to help these endangered animals.  

Renowned environmentalist and passionate chimpanzee crusader, Jane Goodall, once stated that the greatest threat to our future is apathy. It is therefore of critical importance that the public not only become aware of the plight of chimpanzees and other primates in medical laboratories but also take action in stopping this callous practice.

This interview focuses on the number of chimpanzees still suffering in research centers across the USA. It also takes a look at the horrific findings of an undercover investigation conducted in 2008 and explains what a day in the life of a laboratory chimpanzee is like.

The Only Developed Nation Conducting Invasive Research on Chimpanzees

According to Kathleen Conlee, spokesperson of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) for chimps, the United States is the only developed country in the world currently conducting invasive research on chimpanzees. "The African country of Gabon has a laboratory that holds a small number of chimpanzees, but we know of no other chimpanzees in laboratories in the world," she comments.

Conlee explains that he US bred substantial numbers of chimpanzees for HIV research in the 1980’s but that the chimpanzee model of HIV failed and consequently created a surplus.  She adds that many of these chimpanzees remain in laboratories today and that the breeding effort largely contributed to their continued use. "It is time for the USA to join the rest of the world and end  this outdated practice," she emphasizes.

Number of Chimpanzees in Laboratories Across America

It is estimated that there are currently more than one thousand chimpanzees in laboratories across America. Conlee says that to the best of their knowledge the chimpanzees are being kept in seven laboratories across five states as follows:

New Iberia Research Center (New Iberia, Louisiana) – 320

Alamogordo Primate Facility (Alamogordo, New Mexico) – 232

MD Anderson Cancer Center (Bastrop, Texas) – 180

Southwest National Primate Research Center (San Antonio, Texas) –160

Yerkes National Primate Research Center (Atlanta, Georgia) –98

Bioqual (Rockville, MD) –13

Food and Drug Administration (Bethesda, Maryland) – 5

Conlee comments that the laboratory in Bethesda might be closed and that they are still awaiting confirmation.

HSUS Undercover Investigation of Chimpanzees in Louisiana

In 2008 an in-depth undercover investigation  conducted by the HSUS at the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana revealed the appalling suffering endured by chimpanzees and other primates. The shocking footage recorded on video over a period of nine months captured horrific scenes of distress which even led to self mutilation in some cases.

A few of the chimpanzees have already spent five decades behind bars and some are no longer fit for research purposes as a result of stress-induced psychosis and are kept in isolation.  Conlee says that an amendment of the Animal Welfare Act adopted in 1985 was meant to address the psychological well-being of primates but that it continues to be one of the major failures of the laboratories and enforcement agencies in the US.

"Following the undercover investigation of the New Iberia Research Center, The HSUS submitted a letter of complaint and evidence of over 300 alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act to the US. Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health."  She explains that the Department of Agriculture enforces the Animal Welfare Act and that the National Institute of Health provides significant funding to the New Iberia Research Center.  "Both agencies are conducting investigations and we are still waiting on those results but we urge the agencies to invoke maximum penalties under the law," Conlee states.

Day in the Life of a Chimp at a Medical Research Laboratory

According to Conlee when chimpanzees are on active protocol related to something such as infectious disease they are typically housed in a steel cage that is approximately 5 ft x 5 ft x 7 ft, which is the minimum cage size allowed under the Animal Welfare Act.  She adds that the cage usually has nothing but a steel perch for the animal to sleep on.

"Protocols often call for invasive procedures, such as liver biopsy for hepatitis C research. This can involve 'knocking them down' with an anesthetic, which can be terrifying. In a single cage, the back wall is moved forward by a loud hydraulic system so that the animals are 'squeezed' forward."  She also explains that when they are in a larger enclosure, they are sometimes darted with a gun. "This involves the chimps running around in the cage screaming and after they are hit with the dart, they go crashing to the concrete floor."