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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Advocating for Chimpanzees on Capitol Hill

Today, “Glee” actress and chimpanzee advocate Charlotte Ross joined scientific experts on Capitol Hill to participate in a congressional briefing on the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act (S. 810/H.R.1513). The legislation—introduced by Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Reps. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., Steve Israel, D-N.Y., Dave Reichert, R-Wash., Jim Langevin, D-R.I., and Ed Towns, D-N.Y.—would phase out the use of chimpanzees in invasive research, retire approximately 500 federally owned chimpanzees to sanctuary, and prohibit breeding of chimpanzees for harmful research purposes.

At a time when Congress is seeking ways to reduce the federal deficit, this legislation would save taxpayers about $30 million annually, or about $300 million over the next decade. It’s much more costly to warehouse chimps in individual lab cages than it is to allow them to live out their lives in more natural group settings at sanctuaries.

Chimpanzees at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest
Two chimps, Negra and Missy, enjoy each other’s company
at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest.
photo: Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest

The HSUS’s senior director of animal research issues, Kathleen Conlee, kicked off the event by describing her experiences as a former employee at a primate breeding and research facility, followed by her time at a great ape sanctuary. The crowd then viewed footage from an HSUS undercover investigation at the largest chimpanzee laboratory in the world—the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana. Images of chimpanzees housed in isolation, self-mutilating, and banging against their cages were in stark contrast to images shown of chimpanzees enjoying their peaceful lives at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest located in Cle Elum, Wash. The sanctuary’s executive director, Sarah Baeckler, also co-chair of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance, shared stories about the retirement and rehabilitation of seven chimpanzees who lived in a laboratory basement for decades.

Charlotte Ross shared her passion for this important issue with the audience as she explained how she is in awe of Dr. Jane Goodall’s work and wants to make sure people are aware of the terrible suffering that many chimpanzees go through over decades in laboratories. Chimpanzees can be subjected to terrifying experimental procedures for weeks or months at a time. Some of these animals are used for breeding, only to have their babies taken from them just a few days or weeks after giving birth. However, the majority of chimpanzees are simply being warehoused in barren conditions that cannot meet their complex physical and psychological needs. This is no way to treat our closest living relative.

Dr. Brian Hare, an assistant professor of evolutionary anthropology and cognitive neuroscience at Duke University, spoke about opportunities that are available to study chimpanzee health and behavior using noninvasive methods in zoos and African sanctuaries. Not only are Dr. Hare’s proposed methods of studying chimpanzees significantly less expensive than keeping them in laboratories, but they also provide a much more naturalistic and stimulating environment for these intelligent and social animals.

Finally, Dr. Joanne Zurlo of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health offered scientific information about a new way forward for replacing animals—including chimpanzees—in invasive research with better, faster, and more accurate research methods. She described recent advances in in vitro and other non-animal testing methods which will more accurately inform scientists about the human response to chemicals, drugs, vaccines and disease.

The public wants a reprieve for the 1,000 chimpanzees currently living in six U.S. laboratories. It’s not only inhumane, but also fiscally reckless to keep these long-lived creatures warehoused in labs on the government dole. Please contact your members of Congress today and urge them to support the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act.

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