Chimp Retirement Act runs afoul of NIH monkey-business
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2000:
WASHINGTON D.C.– – Alleged
monkey-business involving the Florida vote
count in the November 7 U.S. presidential
election may have thwarted monkey-business
by amendment in the House of
Representatives to the Chimpanzee Health
Improvement, Maintenance and Protection
Act of 2000.
Called the “Chimp Retirement Act”
for short, the amended bill cleared the House
on October 24, but was deemed unlikely to
get Senate attention when it didn’t reach the
floor before the election recess.
The odds that it would be brought
up for a vote after the election grew slim after
uncertainty over the voting results caused
Congress to recess again on November 15.
Scheduled to reconvene for probably the last
time on December 5, the 106th Congress is
expected to pass only mandatory budget and
trade treaty bills before dissolving.
A second major piece of nonhuman
primate protection legislation, the Great Ape
Conservation Act of 2000, did clear the
106th Congress, and on November 1 was
signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
Relatively uncontroversial, except to some
ideological opponents of any foreign aid, the
Great Ape Conservation Act allocates $5
million a year in grants to wildlife agencies
and nonprofit organizations to encourage the
protection of chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas,
and orangutans in their native habitat.
The Great Ape Conservation Act
won passage amid growing mass media attention
to the growing central African traffic in
bush meat, including nonhuman primates
who are hunted for human consumption. A
further boost came in September 2000 from
the reported extinction of Miss Waldron’s red
columbus monkey, a species once common
to the eastern Ivory Coast and western Ghana.
Identified in 1936, Miss Waldron’s
red colubus was last seen alive during the
1970s. It is now the first known primate
extinction since the 19th century, but the
Primate Specialist Group within the World
Conservation Union anticipates that about
25% of all primate species could go extinct
within the next 30 years, chiefly through the
combination of bush meat hunting with logging
and fires that destroy habitat.
CRA will be back
The Chimp Retirement Act of 2000
may be dead, but is almost certain to be
revived in the 107th Congress. Introduced in
November 1999 by Representative Jim
Greenwood (R–Pa.) with eight co-sponsors,
the version brought before the 106th Congress
paralleled bill introduced by Greenwood during
the 105th Congress. But this time it also
came with a Senate companion bill, introduced
in June 2000 by Senator Robert C.
As originally drafted and expected to
pass, both the House and Senate versions of
the Chimp Retirement Act would have authorized
the National Institutes of Health, Food
and Drug Administration, and other U.S. government
agencies to fund the retirement to
nonprofit sanctuaries of any chimps who are
surplus to anticipated research needs.
The chimps, once retired, were not
to be bred and not to be recalled to invasive
research use. They could, however, continue
to be part of non-invasive behavioral research,
and studies might be performed on them in
connection with normal veterinary care.
The Chimp Retirement Act was
advanced as offering a win/win proposition to
all interested parties. Research facilities
would get out from under some of the burden
of keeping chimps; animal protection groups
would get the chance to save some chimps
from vivisection, and would even get some of
the funding necessary to do it.
Several sanctuaries are already providing
lifetime care to ex-research chimps,
including Primarily Primates, which just completed
five new buildings to house a colony of
75 (a few of whom came from sources other
than labs); Wildlife Waystation, with about
50 chimps; and the Center for Captive
Chimpanzee Care, with 20. All, however,
have struggled to accommodate the chimps
they have, and would be hard-pressed to take
more without significant financial help.
The Chimp Retirement Act was
accordingly welcomed and heavily touted by
most major animal advocacy organizations.
Primatologist Jane Goodall lent the bill her
But as the Chimp Retirement Act
seemed to be on the verge of passage,
Coalition to End Primate Experimentation and
Primate Freedom Tour cofounder Linda
Howard smelled something not quite right
about it––even before it was amended.
“For over a decade,” Howard
explained to anyone would listen, “the U.S.
government funded five facilities under the
Chimpanzee Health Improvement Maintenance
Program to breed chimpanzees for
research. The funded facilities were the
Primate Foundation of Arizona; the Coulston
Foundation; and the NIH regional primate
research colonies at New Iberia, Louisiana;
Bastrop, Texas; and Athens, Georgia.
“When it became apparent that
AIDS/HIV research using chimpanzees was a
failure,” since few chimps are susceptible to
HIV, “laboratory demand for chimpanzees
crashed. At that point,” Howard added, “all
federally-funded facilities were ordered to
observe a five-year moratorium on breeding,
including those which were funded exclusively
as breeding facilities.
“About a year and a half ago the
NIH announced that the CHIMP program
would be discontinued and replaced, and that
the new program would fund up to three facilities.
No one knew what this new program
would entail and there was much speculation,”
Howard said, “about which of the five
CHIMP program facilities would be re-funded
in the new program.”
The new program, called EMBRC
as acronym for Establishment/Maintenance of
Biomedical Research Colony, was “launched
at the beginning of September 2000,” Howard
continued. “Chimp research and breeding is
mandated for New Iberia and Bastrop, and the
Primate Foundation of Arizona is subcontracted
by New Iberia. Keep in mind,” Howard
cautioned, “that the abstract for this program
has neither been approved nor publicized.
Neither has the budget been passed through
the Health and Human Services appropriations
bill of the 106th Congress. Regardless,”
Howard insisted, citing her findings through
extensive contacts within the primate research
community, “the National Center for
Research Resources [a division of NIH] i s
already shelling out money for EMBRC.
“Why is federally funded chimp
breeding being initiated at the same time that
Congress attempts to bail the research community
out of the surplus chimp problem that they
created?” Howard asked.
And Howard supplied an answer:
“Once cages currently imprisoning chimpanzees
are empty, and labs are freed from the
cost of maintaining chimps, more primates
can be brought in. Before the announcement
of EMBRC,” Howard said, “I imagined that
macaques would replace the chimps. Now it
seems that biomedical researchers are
attempting, at least in part, to replace their
old used-up chimps with baby chimps.”
The babies, unlike many of the
chimps bred in the 1980s, will not have been
exposed to HIV and other infections which
might compromise research results and the
safety of human handlers––even if the diseases
don’t harm the chimps themselves.
NIH wanted more
But the NIH wanted even more than
the Chimp Retirement Act as introduced was
to offer: it wanted the ability to recall
“retired” chimps to lab use if researchers ever
wanted them, and it wanted to keep within the
biomedical research community the money
earmarked for nonprofit sanctuary care.
NIH principal deputy director Ruth
L. Kirschstein, M.D., initiated the grab in an
October 16 letter to key members of the House
“The NIH is implementing a plan to
provide long-term care for 288 chimpanzees
that are infected with HIV, hepatitis, or
both,” Kirschstein opened, presenting a case
that the NIH itself should be the long-term
custodian, via subcontractors, for these and
other chimps who are retired from reserach.
The 288 chimps involved are among
about 650 housed by the Coulston Foundation
in Alamagordo, New Mexico. The NIH
assumed financial responsibility for the 288 in
May 2000, as Coulston reportedly teetered
near bankruptcy. This solved two problems
for Coulston, at least temporarily, as in
August 1999 Coulston had agreed to divest
itself of 300 chimps to settle alleged repeated
violations of Animal Welfare Act care and
After the NIH stepped in, Coulston
Foundation applied for NIH funding to continue
to look after the chimps, but was turned
down about a week before Kirschstein wrote.
“These animals are not candidates
for a sanctuary,” Kirschstein continued,
“because their persistent infections pose a significant
health threat to caretakers and uninfected
animals. They also have unique health
problems that require special care not generally
available in sanctuaries. Under the plan,
these chimpanzees may be returned to
research, if the need arises. Thus, the plan
meets the needs of research, while providing
humane care for the animals.
“We believe that permanent retirement
of these chimpanzees is unwise,”
Kirschstein continued. “In addition, permanent
retirement would represent poor stewardship
of the already substantial investment in
these animals by the NIH.
“We request that you delay legislative
action on this issue until we have had a
chance to discuss with Congress our proposed
long-term care plan,” Kirschstein finished.
By the time the Chimp Retirement
Act cleared the House, just eight days later,
the NIH had almost everything it wanted.
The only thing NIH didn’t have,
memos leaked to ANIMAL PEOPLE indicated,
was a crushing humiliation of animal
rights groups. Most of the major groups had
already sent out mass mailings in support of
the Chimp Retirement Act, and could thereby
claim ”victory” if it passed in any form.
“We’re not talking about chimp
sanctuaries any longer,” Howard warned.
“We’re talking about off-site storage.”
“I will never accept a chimp under
these circumstances,” wrote Wild Animal
Orphanage founder Carol Asvestas, who is
already giving lifetime care to more than 300
ex-research primates, including six chimps.
In Defense of Animals withdrew
support of the Chimp Retirement Act on
October 25. Friends of Animals circulated a
statement of opposition by Rutgers University
law professor Gary Francione on November 6.
But Jane Goodall, Rattling The
Cage author Stephen Wise, the Humane
Society of the U.S., and the Animal Welfare
Institute, among others, continued to support
the amended bill as the best that they thought
could be obtained.