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National Institutes of Health to Retire Hundreds of Chimpanzees to Sanctuary

The Humane Society of the United States applauds agency’s monumental decision

The National Institutes of Health announced its intention to retire the majority of the approximately 360 government-owned chimpanzees currently in laboratories to sanctuary.

The NIH announced its decision to accept and begin implementing most of the recommendations recently put forth by an independent expert advisory group on issues surrounding chimpanzee research and retirement. The “Working Group” was established to advise NIH on implementation of the findings of a 2011 Institute of Medicine study which determined that chimpanzees are unnecessary for most biomedical and behavioral research.

“This is an historic moment and major turning point for chimpanzees in laboratories—some who have been languishing in concrete housing for over 50 years,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “It is crucial now to ensure that the release of hundreds of chimpanzees to sanctuary becomes a reality, and we look forward to working with NIH and the sanctuary community to make that happen.”

Additional recommendations NIH will implement include a substantial decrease in the number of government-funded grants involving chimpanzees in laboratories and no revitalization of chimpanzee breeding for research purposes.

NIH will continue to maintain but not breed a group of up to 50 government-owned or supported chimpanzees in a laboratory for potential future use —despite urging by The HSUS not to do so. However, these animals will be kept in “ethologically appropriate” settings—which provide large, complex social groups, and year round outdoor access among other environment enhancements. The need for this small group of chimpanzees will be reassessed periodically and an independent body, including public representatives, will be formed to assess future chimpanzee proposals.

The HSUS is calling on the U.S. Congress to make a technical fix in the Chimpanzee Health, Improvement, Maintenance and Protection (CHIMP) Act to the NIH to continue to contract with appropriate sanctuaries for the care and housing of retired chimpanzees, rather than warehouse them in lower-welfare, higher-cost laboratory settings to the detriment of chimps and taxpayers alike.   That policy has been in place for more than a decade, and an update to the law is needed to allow that sanctuary work to continue at the very moment it’s most needed.

This NIH decision comes on the heels of a recent proposed rule by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect all chimpanzees under the Endangered Species Act. If finalized, that proposal is expected to significantly impact the use of chimps for harmful biomedical research, entertainment and interstate trade as pets. Any use of chimpanzees that would cause harm to the animals would require a permit and FWS would evaluate each permit application individually to determine whether the proposed action would promote conservation of the species, as required by the ESA.


  • In December 2010, Senators Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., sent a letter to the National Academy of Sciences requesting a study to determine “the extent of the continued need for invasive research on chimpanzees and the merits of alternative methods.” Subsequently, NIH put on hold its plan to transfer nearly 200 chimps from the Alamogordo Primate Facility in New Mexico, where they were held but not used for research, into possible renewed invasive research at the Southwest National Primate Research Center in Texas.
  • In December 2011, the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine and National Research Council released a report that concluded chimpanzees are not necessary for most biomedical and behavioral research, and could not identify any area of current biomedical research, including therapies for people infected with hepatitis C, for which chimpanzee use is essential.
  • In December 2012, NIH announced that more than 100 federally-owned chimpanzees in laboratories (approximately 20 percent of the federally-owned population) will be retired to Chimp Haven, the national chimpanzee sanctuary, within about a year.
  • Immediately following the release of the IOM report, the NIH halted any new funding for chimpanzee research and established the Working Group to advise it on the implementation of the IOM report findings.
  • The Working Group announced its recommendations to NIH on Jan. 22, 2013. The announcement was followed by a 60-day public comment period that ended on March 23, 2013.


  • Approximately 850 chimpanzees, the majority of whom are owned or supported by the federal government, remain in five laboratories in the United States – the only developed country in the world to continue the use of these animals for invasive research and testing.
  • These recommendations address government-funded research only and do not apply to the use of chimpanzees by private industry.
  • During the public comment period, The HSUS sent NIH more than 57,000 letters from the public in support of retiring all government-owned chimpanzees to sanctuary, ending the use of chimpanzees in harmful research, and permanently ending the breeding of chimpanzees for research. 

Media Contact:  Niki Ianni: 610-999-6932; nianni@humanesociety.org