NIH Working Group Says Chimpanzees Should Not Go to Sanctuary if Their Health Could Be Endangered

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Working Group on Assessing the Safety of Relocating At-Risk Chimpanzees released their report last Friday in which they conclude, “Chimpanzees should be relocated to the federal sanctuary system unless relocation would place the chimpanzee's life, safety, and welfare at extreme risk.” The federal sanctuary system referenced in this report is Chimp Haven in Keithville, LA. NABR has long argued that chimpanzees should not be relocated if their health, safety, or welfare were put at risk by the move. The report goes on to state if there is a disagreement between a research facility and sanctuary, an “independent expert veterinary opinion should be sought to inform the relocation decision.” However, the report included no details about who the independent third party should be nor how impartiality would be determined.

The working group report comes in the wake of revelations that moving elderly or ailing chimpanzees from research facilities to sanctuaries had been adversely affecting their health, and in several cases the move was fatal. Researchers have noted many chimpanzees suffered or died needlessly as a result of transfers to Chimp Haven, as detailed by Speaking of Research. In fact Wired profiled 13 chimpanzees who were moved to the facility in 2014-2015; within 15 months, nine of the chimps had died.

As of March 2018, 232 of the 504 chimpanzees owned by NIH have been moved to the federal sanctuary. Of the remaining chimpanzees that have not been moved, 177 have health issues that would be negatively impacted by relocation. NIH plans to open a 60-day public comment period before NIH Director Francis Collins decides on further chimpanzee relocation. Director Collins ordered an end to NIH funding of chimpanzee research in November 2015.