Date: July 16, 1997
Contacts: Molly Galvin, Media Relations Associate
David Schneier, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; Internet <>


Chimpanzees Bred for Research Should be Cared for
Even After They are no Longer Needed

WASHINGTON -- Euthanasia should not be used to control an excess population of chimpanzees bred for scientific research, says a new report* from a committee of the National Research Council. Instead, a central office within the federal government should assume ownership of the majority of these animals and oversee their lifetime care and management. In addition, a breeding moratorium should be imposed until the year 2001.

"Chimpanzee research has led to the development of a vaccine for hepatitis B and other important medical breakthroughs that have been of major benefit to humanity," said committee chair Dani Bolognesi, director of the Duke Center for AIDS Research, Duke University, Durham, N.C. "Because chimpanzees are essential for many types of research, the federal government should take responsibility for their long-term care and ensure that they are used in research as cost-effectively as possible."

Approximately 1,500 chimpanzees are housed in six biomedical facilities throughout the United States. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched a successful breeding program in 1986 to meet a predicted increase in demand for chimpanzees in AIDS research, but because the need was smaller than expected, there is now an excess of these research animals.

This oversupply has created substantial management problems for the institutions that house them. Daily care for each chimpanzee averages $15 to $30, and the cost of maintaining a chimpanzee over the course of its expected 25- to 34-year life span can be as much as $300,000. In addition, overcrowding at existing facilities increases the risks that the animals will pass infectious diseases to one another. Captive chimpanzees cannot be returned to native habitats because they are unlikely to survive and could introduce new strains of disease to chimpanzees in the wild.

Population Management

A central office -- preferably within NIH -- should take charge of the long-term management of the approximately 1,000 chimpanzees owned by the government or used in government-sponsored research, the committee said. Since these animals already are supported through government funding, transferring ownership to a central office should not increase the $7.3 million the government spends each year to care for the chimpanzees. The remaining 500 are privately owned and not used for government-sponsored research, so they are unlikely to be transferred to government ownership.

Shifting management of the majority of these animals to a central office should help avoid future oversupplies and ensure that the chimpanzees would be used more efficiently, the committee said. There are more than enough of the animals to meet research needs for at least the next five years. But because future research needs can never be predicted with complete certainty, annual assessments should be performed to maintain an appropriate supply.

Given the present excess number and current research needs, however, many of the chimpanzees that would go to the government under this plan may not be needed for breeding or for research. Animals that pose no public health threat should be transferred to sanctuaries, zoos, or other compounds that meet established guidelines for proper long-term care, the committee said.

The government should encourage public and private initiatives to build sanctuaries, which may be able to provide care more cheaply than existing government facilities, the committee said. If sanctuaries are not available, the committee said, these chimpanzees should be kept in government-owned facilities that are remodeled for cost-effective, long-term housing.
A certain number of animals should be maintained as research candidates, and some should be kept as potential breeders in case a public health emergency -- such as a threatening new infectious disease -- increases demand, the committee said. Chimpanzees that are held for future breeding or research should be kept in controlled environments staffed by trained personnel.

Approximately 260 of the government-owned chimpanzees that could be retired from research projects carry infectious agents that may pose public health threats, the committee noted. These animals should either remain at the biomedical units where they are currently or should be housed at a specifically designated facility that can safely contain them.

By centralizing chimpanzee management, scientists also may be able to use more of the animals in research, the committee said. Current costs are often prohibitive because researchers must pay high "use" fees. For example, researchers who want to use chimpanzees for studying HIV may have to pay $60,000 per animal, since the chimpanzee is unlikely to be used in other research and will need long-term support. These fees could be eliminated if effective management strategies are devised for long-term care of chimpanzees.

The government also should gather as much information as possible about privately owned chimpanzees, since their availability for research could lower the demand for government-owned animals.

Long-Term Care

The committee developed a list of standards that should be met by any type of facility that cares for chimpanzees for longer than six months -- including government-funded or private research facilities, private sanctuaries, and zoos. For example, all chimpanzees in long-term housing should have daily access to the outdoors. They also should have social contact with other animals unless research protocols prohibit it.

Any private facilities that may house chimpanzees for long-term care should meet these standards before government-owned animals are transferred there, the committee said. Additional funding may be needed to modify existing government-owned facilities that do not meet these standards.

To ensure effective management decisions, a separate advisory council should be appointed to oversee the office that is in charge of the research chimpanzees, the committee said. The majority who serve in this advisory capacity would not be employed at government agencies and would represent many areas of expertise, including veterinary medicine, animal welfare, ethics, and chimpanzee health and behavior.

One committee member dissented from the majority view, stating that consideration should be given to the humanely euthanizing chimpanzees as part of a responsible management program. The minority view is included in an appendix of the report.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, non-profit institution that provides independent advice on science and technology issues under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

*Copies of Chimpanzees in Research: Strategies for Their Ethical Care, Management, and Use will be available in August from the National Academy Press at the mailing address in the letterhead; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain pre-publication copies from the Office of News and Public Information at the letterhead address (contacts listed above).

Institute for Laboratory Animal Research

Committee on Long-term Care of Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research