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Lawmakers' Empathy for Chimpanzees Is Contagious

chimpContagious yawning is a sign of empathy—and not just among humans. A recent study observed that chimpanzees yawn when they see another chimpanzee yawning. The same study found that emotions are contagious, too. Recently, more than 30 members of Congress proved that. They were persuaded by PCRM and its supporters to co-sponsor the Great Ape Protection Act. Now the act has more than 100 co-sponsors.

The next step is to persuade Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., to move the Great Ape Protection Act, or H.R. 1326, out of committee and to hold a hearing on the bill. Pallone is the chair and Waxman is a member of the House Subcommittee on Health, where the bill was introduced.

PCRM is already working with celebrities like actress Emily Deschanel to urge Waxman to support the Great Ape Protection Act. In a letter to Waxman, Deschanel wrote, “It can be easy to forget these animals who are locked away and out of sight. The Great Ape Protection Act is the best chance we have to ease their pain and suffering.”

The Great Ape Protection Act would finally prohibit invasive experiments on chimpanzees in the United States and retire approximately 1,000 chimpanzees to permanent sanctuaries.

The United States is the only nation in the world to continue using chimpanzees in invasive experiments on a large scale. In America, many chimpanzees in laboratories are essentially warehoused—no longer used in active protocols because they haven’t proved useful as models for human diseases, but still kept in laboratory cages. The United Kingdom, Belgium, Sweden, and other countries have passed laws to ban or restrict chimpanzee experiments.

In 2006, Japan placed an unofficial ban on invasive chimpanzee research. This month, PCRM primatologist Debra Durham, Ph.D., will visit Chimpanzee Sanctuary Uto in Japan. Many chimpanzees at Uto were used to test pharmaceuticals.

Based on pilot data, Dr. Durham and PCRM’s director of research policy Hope Ferdowsian, M.D., M.P.H., have found that chimpanzees once forced to live in laboratory settings display symptoms of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other anxiety disorders, much like human victims of traumatic experiences.

To ask Congress to support the Great Ape Protection Act, visit


PCRM Online, December 2009

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