Washington Update

NIH Working Group Makes Recommendations for Relocating Chimpanzees

By: Anne Deschamps
Thursday, May 24, 2018

Last week, a working group of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Council of Councils released a report with seven recommendations for transferring at-risk chimpanzees from research laboratories to the federal sanctuary system.

In November 2015, NIH stated that it would no longer support biomedical research using chimpanzees and in 2016 developed a  strategy for retiring NIH-owned and -supported animals. Many of these chimpanzees are ailing or elderly. Therefore, a working group was established to assess the safety of relocating former research chimpanzees that may be vulnerable to harm during shipment or upon arrival at sanctuary.

The working group recommended the following actions:

  1. Chimpanzees should be relocated to the federal sanctuary system unless relocation is extremely likely to shorten their lives.
  2. NIH should oversee the development of standardized approaches for assessing each chimpanzee based on its health, behavior, social needs, and environmental requirements. A categorization framework was proposed.
  3. All facilities proposing transfer of chimpanzees to sanctuary must use the same categorization framework.
  4. Sending and receiving facilities should collaborate to jointly expand the technical assistance available to the receiving facility to care for at-risk chimpanzees.
  5. Facilities that house NIH-owned or -supported chimpanzees should develop shared relocation standard operating procedures.
  6. When facilities disagree about whether to relocate a chimpanzee, independent expert veterinary opinion should be sought to inform the relocation decision.
  7. Facilities housing NIH-owned or -supported chimpanzees should give the NIH sufficient information to undertake actuarial and demographic analyses on these animals.

The Council of Councils approved the working group’s report and recommendations despite concerns that “extremely likely to shorten their lives” was not well-defined in recommendation 1.

NIH will issue a 60-day comment period for public input before NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, considers accepting the report and recommendations.