By Ingrid Newkirk
New Mexico’s Governor Richardson met with National Institutes of Health (NIH) officials recently in a last-ditch effort to stop NIH from moving 202 “retired” chimpanzees out of Holloman Air Force base and back into invasive experiments. NIH is moving swiftly to transfer the chimpanzees into facilities so substandard that caging conditions within them violate not only everything that we have come to know about what chimpanzees require but also federal law itself. Some of the animals are 60 years old; some are left over from the space program. Gov. Richardson’s visit came on the heels of petitions and pleas by everyone from physicians, veterinarians and primatologists to actors such as Gene Hackman, all of which have been ignored.
It was only a week earlier that Time magazine’s cover story asked the question, “What’s on animals’ minds?” Fifteen years before, as Dr. Jane Goodall mulled over the complex relationships within chimpanzee families, Time had asked, “Do animals think?” Now the question is “What do animals think?” In the case of chimpanzees, who have been taught to use sign boards and even American Sign Language to communicate with their human captors, they think a lot.
The more pressing question is now “What is NIH thinking?” And the answer isn’t befitting our nation’s level of awareness about animals and its commitment to their protection.
In 2001, the U.S. Congress recognized that chimpanzees should be retired from experimentation. “Retirement” has not meant a beachfront condo or a return to the Gombe. Charities have managed to wrest away some chimpanzees, rehabilitate them from a life that, in some cases, consisted of 34 years on a concrete bench in a tiny cell or two decades in a steel cage barely any bigger than the animal’s body, and put them in group care. Continue reading Will President Obama allow 60-year-old space program veterans to retire?