In another step toward ending biomedical research on chimpanzees, the National Institutes of Health announced Wednesday that it would begin the process of retiring most of its chimps to sanctuaries, although it will leave some for possible future research.
The decision does not end biomedical research on NIH chimpanzees. But it calls for retiring about 310 animals that the agency owns to sanctuaries from which they cannot be recalled for research. A colony of up to 50 will be kept at a site yet to be decided in case there is a compelling need to use them in research for human health. And new guidelines will be in place for any future research and for chimpanzee housing.
The NIH decision was long anticipated. Two weeks ago the US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed declaring captive chimpanzees endangered, requiring permits for their use that would hamper efforts by public or private labs to use the animals for research.
“Chimpanzees are very special animals,” the NIH director, Dr. Francis S. Collins, said in a telephone conference call Wednesday. “They are our closest relatives.” As such, he said, “we believe they deserve special consideration.”