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No Room In Northwest For Hundreds Of Retiring Research Chimps

Thomas Lersch

The National Institutes of Health Wednesday announced it will retire the great majority of chimpanzees used in federally-supported medical research.

The institute director says the use of our closest animal relative for invasive studies can no longer be justified in most cases. That means more than 300 chimps are headed into retirement. But neither of the two chimpanzee sanctuaries here in the Northwest say they're prepared to take new chimps.

Diana Goodrich, the outreach director for Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest near Cle Elum, Washington reacted with delight to the phase out. "It's just such a huge step forward in terms of finally getting to the end of the use of chimpanzees in biomedical experimentation."

She says it would be tricky for her sanctuary to accept new residents because chimpanzees are territorial.

"We could theoretically fit more chimps into the group. But the challenging part would be introducing them. In order for us to expand, we would have to kind of create a Plan B just in case things didn't work out."

Goodrich says her central Washington sanctuary doesn't intend in the near term to build the needed separate facility. A spokesperson at a different sanctuary in Bend, Oregon with eight apes says it also lacks room for new residents. So several much larger primate sanctuaries in the American South will probably be first in line.

Central Washington University also operates a chimpanzee facility, but it won't be accepting any of the retiring medical research chimps either. "Unfortunately, we won't be able to contribute," said Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute director Mary Lee Jensvold.

In fact, she says CWU has begun the process of transferring its two remaining chimps to a sanctuary in Canada because the university cannot afford renovations to its compound.

Goodrich says to the best of her knowledge no medical labs in the Northwest employ chimpanzees for research. "There are a lot of smaller primates (used), macaque monkeys in particular."

On the Web:

NIH announcement - National Institutes of Health 
Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest (Cle Elum, Wash.)
Chimps, Inc. (Bend, Ore.)

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.