As thanks for their years of contributions to humankind through their use in biomedical research, some chimps will be guests of honor at a retirement party this spring.
Set to break ground on May 30 is Chimp Haven (http://www.the-scientist.com/news/20021008/02/), a 200-acre chimpanzee sanctuary in Shreveport, La., which is slated to hold about 200 chimps retired from medical testing. The warm, moist climate of Louisiana is expected to provide a natural environment conducive to monkeying around; the chimps will also be able to interact.
During the 1980s, chimps were in high demand as the model organisms of choice to study HIV. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) began an extensive breeding program to meet the testing demands. Once it was discovered that chimps could carry the virus, often without deadly consequences, labs suddenly became stuck with an excess of chimps, many of whom weren't even used in studies. When NIH realized the cart had been put in front of the chimp, the agency had to take care of the surplus.
Laws do not allow chimps to be euthanized, but they are relatively expensive to maintain, and the small cages in research institutions make for less than optimal long-term housing. In 1997, at the request of the NIH, the Institute of Laboratory Animal Resources studied the status and long-term care of chimpanzees used in biomedical and behavioral research. That study led to the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance, and Protection (CHIMP) Act, signed in December 2000, which provided NIH the $23 million in seed money for a chimp retirement setting.
No research will be performed at Chimp Haven; this large, green pasture is strictly for chimps to live out the rest of their lives. "These chimps have done great things for humankind, so this is kind of like dues to them," says Linda Brent, president of Chimp Haven.
Hal Cohen can be contacted by firstname.lastname@example.org.