There is only one nation in the entire world that permits large-scale confinement of chimpanzees in laboratories for invasive research. The perpetrator? The United States of America.
According to the Physician Committee for Responsible Medicine, more than 1,000 chimpanzees are locked up in U.S. labs. A self-proclaimed Jackass, widely-known comedian, Steve-O, along with a handful of other concerned celebrity supporters recently wrote to their senators regarding the Great Ape Protection and Cost Saving Act.
The legislation has bipartisan support and would end invasive and harmful experiments on chimpanzees. It will also permanently end federal breeding programs, and release federally owned chimpanzees to sanctuaries.
One sanctuary in particular is the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula, Fl. Drew Roberts, a student at the University of Central Florida, hopes to obtain professional employment there.
"I think it's immoral to put our basically -- evolutionary cousins through that," Roberts said.
The Institute of Medicine recently concluded that the use of chimpanzees is not necessary to advance human health. In fact, it released a major scientific report to make it clear that experiments being conducted on chimpanzees to study HIV/AIDS accompanied by a list of other diseases could be replaced with alternative methods of research.
According to Roberts, at the Center for Great Apes, some have learned to make written language, play video games, understand and perform the concept of categorization and respond to complex commands.
"They all have different personalities and temperaments," Roberts said. "Some will be nice and come right up to you, and some will kick your ass."
According to a study conducted by Jarrod Bailey, Ph. D., geneticist and Science Director for NEAVS, chimpanzees are our closest genetic relatives. Humans differ genetically by around 5-7 percent. Although the genetic difference may appear to be seemingly small, it makes chimpanzees irrelevant to human disease research.
Since humans and chimpanzees are so close genetically, it means their biological, emotional and social needs cannot be met when being held captive in cages no bigger than a kitchen table. This leads to suffering from psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dr. Theo Capaldo is the Executive Director of Project R&R: Release and Restitution for Chimpanzees in U.S. Laboratories.
Before Project R&R started its campaign, a survey was distributed to a variety of people. According to the survey, before the campaign was even launched, 74 percent believed if a chimpanzee was held in a lab for longer than ten years, they should be retired.
"There are chimpanzees who have literally been in a lab for 30, 40, 50 years. It horrifies us as an animal protection group and it horrifies the public as well," Capaldo said.
Additionally, www.releasechimps.org stated that in one year alone, $13.5 million of our tax dollars were wasted merely to fund the laboratory “business” of keeping chimpanzees.
According to PCRM, government owned chimpanzees in laboratories cost an average of $51 per day. For higher quality care at the federal sanctuary, the cost is $32 per day.
“I’ve made a pledge not to be in any movies or TV shows that use chimpanzees or other great apes. But unfortunately, my tax dollars are still being spent on chimpanzee abuse,” said 30 Rock Star Alec Baldwin in his letter to the his senator.
PCRM believes that The Great Ape Protection and Cost Saving Act is the medically, scientifically, and ethically responsible solution to these problems. According to its website, the passage of the bill would end invasive and harmful experiments on chimpanzees and encourage the use of more effective human-based research methods.
"This bill will change the face of ethics, science and legality in science research. That's huge," Capaldo said.
*Note: The comment that previously appeared in this article as quoted by Dr. Theo Capaldo, was incomplete and therefore in error. She and NEAVS, the organization that she represents, have scientifically shown evidence that the use of chimpanzees in bio-medical research despite their genetic similarity to humans, has resulted in limited, erroneous data that has made little if any contribution to human health. Instead, their use has wasted research dollars, caused them enormous suffering and resulted in delays in the development and use of available alternatives that do result in findings applicable to humans.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore cc:flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore and Juliane Riedl