August 2013

NIH to begin mass retirement of research chimpanzees

The National Institutes of Health will begin retiring many of the nearly 1,000 captive chimpanzees to the Federal Sanctuary System, leaving roughly 50 for future experimentation needs. The move comes as the NIH begins to implement the recommendations of an Institute of Medicine report regarding the necessity of chimpanzees for biomedical research.

Pumpkin, a 24-year-old chimpanzee living at the Alamogordo Primate Facility in New Mexico 
Pumpkin is a 24-year-old chimpanzee living at the Alamogordo Primate Facility in New Mexico. Photo credit: National Institutes of Health. 

Among the other recommendations accepted were the following:

  • • Provide ethologically appropriate facilities for all chimpanzees.
  • • Establish a review panel that will evaluate grant proposals based on their adherence to the IOM guidelines once the grants have cleared the peer-review process.
  • • End research projects using chimpanzees in a manner that preserves the outcome of the research and does minimal harm to the animals.

One recommendation not accepted by the NIH deals with the amount of living space that should be afforded to chimpanzees. The NIH has elected to conduct further research on this topic.
“Americans have benefitted greatly from the chimpanzees’ service to biomedical research, but new scientific methods and technologies have rendered their use in research largely unnecessary,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins.
The NIH has not yet released the date of expected completion of the mass retirement or the criteria for identifying the final 50 chimpanzees that will be available for research.

Photo of Chris PickettChris Pickett ( is the science policy fellow at the ASBMB. Follow his postings on the ASBMB Policy Blotter.




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