Meet Foxie. She is a 33-year-old chimpanzee living in Washington state. She spends her days playing outside, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and showing off her favorite toy, a troll doll with blue hair.
Until June 2008, Foxie lived in a laboratory in Pennsylvania where she was used in hepatitis vaccine experiments. For decades, she was repeatedly poked, prodded, and subjected to numerous procedures. She was also repeatedly impregnated to produce more chimpanzees for experiments. Foxie had five babies, including a set of twins. All were taken from her as infants.
Toward the end of Foxie’s time in the laboratory, she was not being used in experiments or forced breeding. She sat in a cage in a windowless basement for 12 years. Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest approached the laboratory about releasing Foxie and six other chimpanzees. Laboratory officials quickly agreed, citing the high costs of housing and maintaining chimpanzees.
Metal Cages and Invasive Experiments
Foxie and her fellow chimpanzee residents now live in the sanctuary, where their well-being is the priority. But more than 1,000 other chimpanzees still live in research and testing laboratories in the United States. These laboratories are permitted to keep chimpanzees in metal cages about the size of a kitchen table, deprive them of normal social interaction, and repeatedly subject them to invasive procedures.
The United States is the only nation that still makes large-scale use of chimpanzees in invasive research. But legislation recently introduced in Congress could help chimpanzees held in U.S. laboratories. The Great Ape Protection Act (GAPA) would phase out all invasive research on chimpanzees and release federally owned chimpanzees to permanent sanctuaries.
Many other countries have already banned or severely restricted experiments on chimpanzees and other great apes because of a growing awareness of the serious scientific problems with these experiments. But the movement to end chimpanzee experiments is also based on our expanding knowledge of their rich social and emotional lives—and the suffering caused by life in a laboratory.
As a result of social and environmental deprivation in laboratory settings, some chimpanzees begin biting themselves, pulling their hair out, or self-mutilating in other ways. The Animal Welfare Act includes guidelines meant to promote the psychological well-being of nonhuman primates in laboratories. But even when specific guidelines are followed, laboratory settings cannot meet the needs of these highly social and emotionally complex beings. Furthermore, recent investigations have found that some facilities do not even follow minimal welfare requirements.
PCRM scientists confirmed last year that the isolation and mistreatment chimpanzees endure in laboratories cause serious, long-lasting psychological damage. PCRM director of research policy Hope Ferdowsian, M.D., M.P.H., and PCRM research scientist and primatologist Debra Durham, Ph.D., conducted an observational study involving 116 chimpanzees previously used in laboratories and now in a sanctuary. They found that the chimpanzees have a high prevalence of symptoms of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other anxiety disorders, much like human victims of traumatic experiences.
Dr. Durham is currently conducting a similar study at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest. When Foxie first arrived there, she avoided certain objects and activities. She showed limited interest in fellow chimpanzee residents, food, and nesting. Surveys completed by Foxie’s caregivers show that she still exhibits a range of psychological symptoms, but there is evidence of improvement during her new life at the sanctuary.
A Poor Model for Human Disease
Chimpanzees and other nonhuman primates have been used in medical experiments because of the assumption that they are close to humans in physiology. Chimpanzees share approximately 99 percent of their DNA with humans, but they are profoundly different in gene expression and at the molecular level, where disease processes and treatment take place.
After decades of expensive research, more than 85 HIV/AIDS vaccines have demonstrated positive outcomes in chimpanzee experiments. But none of these vaccines has shown protective or significant therapeutic effects in human trials. Drugs used to treat HIV were conceived and developed using computer simulation and in vitro methods, without reliance on animal models. Chimpanzee experiments also have failed to contribute to hepatitis C vaccine development, with most progress stemming from in vitro and clinical studies.
The scientific community has suffered similar failures in chimpanzee research on other human diseases, including malaria, cancer, and neurological disorders.
Chimpanzees Are Not Alone
Chimpanzees represent a small percentage of the millions of animals in laboratories. But chimpanzees are in a unique position that could result in greater protections for all animals.
Phasing out the use of chimpanzees in research would channel funding to the development and implementation of modern, humane, and scientifically superior alternatives, which could help reduce the use of all animals in research.
To learn more about the proposal to end research on chimpanzees, go to PCRM.org/GAPA.
Bailey J. An assessment of the role of chimpanzees in AIDS vaccine research. Altern Lab Anim. Boston: New England Anti-Vivisection Society. 2008;36:381-428.
Bailey J. Non-human primates in medical research and drug development: a critical review. Biogenic Amines. 2005;19:235-256.
Ferdowsian H, Brent L, Durham D, Bradshaw GA. Effects and prevalence of psychological trauma in chimpanzees in captivity. International Primatological Society Congress; 2008: Edinburgh, Scotland.