Today, the National Institutes of Health announced that all of its chimps now living at the New Iberia Research Center would be permanently removed from the research population.
Long criticized by animal advocates for mistreating animals and illegally breeding chimps, New Iberia operates the largest research chimp colony in the United States and is a bastion of a practice abandoned in every other country.
“This is a major message from the NIH: that this era is coming to an end,” said John Pippin of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, an animal advocacy group. “This is huge.”
In December of last year, an expert panel convened by the Institute of Medicine, the nation’s medical science advisers, declared that medical research on chimpanzees was ethically problematic and, in most cases, scientifically unnecessary. The NIH announced a moratorium on new chimp research funding and agreed to review the status of its own animals. After years of fighting for an end to medical research on chimps, whose ability to think, feel and suffer is not far removed from our own, animal advocates greeted that news with cautious relief. The NIH’s intentions sounded good, but what they’d actually do remained to be seen.