Chimps in Captivity: The Great Ape Protection Act Fact Sheet

Karen is one of the estimated 1,000 chimpanzees used in biomedical research.
In 2009, when the world first learned of her through a Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) undercover investigation, she’d been locked up inside a Louisiana lab for 51 years.

Taken from the wild as an infant, Karen was with some 325 other chimpanzees—all of them caged in concrete cells and subjected to terrifying and painful research experiments.

After viewing a series of video clips of the chimps at the lab, Jane Goodall said: “In no lab I have visited have I seen so many chimpanzees exhibit such intense fear. The screaming I heard when chimpanzees were being forced to move toward the dreaded needle in their squeeze cages was, for me, absolutely horrifying.”

In March 2009, U.S. Representative Edolphus Towns (D-NY) reintroduced the Great Ape Protection Act of 2009, which would prohibit invasive research on great apes in the United States and retire government-owned lab chimpanzees to sanctuaries where they would be allowed to live out their lives in peace.

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Frequently asked questions about chimpanzees in invasive research


What other animals would be affected by the Great Ape Protection Act 0f 2009?
In addition to phasing out the use of chimpanzees in invasive research, the bill would require the permanent retirement of government-owned chimpanzees currently held in research laboratories to permanent sanctuaries. It would also make the current permanent moratorium on government-funded breeding of chimpanzees law and prohibit federal funding for invasive research within and outside the United States.

Though it is widely believed that chimpanzees are the only great apes still used in research, the legislation applies to all great apes—chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans, as well as gibbons.


Does this bill ban all research on chimpanzees?
This bill would ban invasive research on all chimpanzees in the United States and prohibit the use of federal funds for chimpanzee research in or outside of the country.  


How many chimpanzees are used in invasive research?
It’s impossible to know exactly how many chimpanzees are used in invasive research, as only federally funded laboratories are required to report this information. However, it is estimated that approximately 1,000 chimpanzees are used in invasive medical research. Of these, approximately 500 are government-owned chimpanzees.


How much does it cost to care for a chimpanzee in a federal laboratory?
According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), it costs $30-$60 per day to maintain a laboratory chimpanzee. The U.S. government spends an estimated $20–$25 million each year on laboratory chimpanzee care and invasive research.

HSUS states that more than $170 million taxpayer dollars would be saved by retiring the 500 federally-owned chimpanzees to sanctuaries.  In addition, tens of millions more dollars would be saved through the ban on breeding and invasive research.  


Are chimpanzees used in medical research exclusively bred in labs for research purposes?
Not necessarily. While some chimpanzees are bred in laboratories and bred strictly for research purposes, some were taken from the wild as infants prior to the enactment of current laws prohibiting importation of this endangered species. Some chimpanzees used in medical research are purchased from private owners or the entertainment industry.


Are chimpanzees needed for medical research?
Chimpanzees have been found to be poor models for human disease research. Despite chimpanzees sharing between 96 to 98 percent of the same DNA as humans, the small variation accounts for some major differences in the way diseases tend to behave and affect the two species. Therefore, chimpanzees have proven to be poor study subjects for a number of human diseases.

Due to the high cost of using chimpanzees in experiments, research on chimps frequently involves a very small sample size. Studies with such small sample sizes are limited in their ability to predict the safety and effectiveness of new medical treatments for humans.

Instead of encouraging scientists to maintain the status quo with regard to invasive research on chimpanzees, we should direct funding toward more promising, alternative methods of research. Computer modeling, DNA analysis, and in vitro study methods are just some available alternatives. We should consider the high ethical and monetary costs of invasive research, as well as the fact that chimpanzees make poor surrogates for human disease studies, and encourage the scientific community to develop additional alternative methods of research.


If chimpanzees are ineffective laboratory models, why is there a “surplus” of chimpanzees in federal laboratories?
The federal government began breeding chimpanzees about 40 years ago for the space program. In 1986, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) stepped up its chimpanzee breeding program under the assumption that chimpanzees—our closest primate cousin—would be ideal laboratory models for AIDS.  This eventually proved to be false. NIH later imposed a moratorium on its chimpanzee breeding program and began looking for solutions to deal with its “surplus.” NIH considered euthanizing the chimpanzees, but abandoned the idea in favor of sending them to sanctuaries.


Wasn’t the CHIMP Act in 2000 designed to send the federal chimpanzees to sanctuaries?
Yes, the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection (CHIMP) Act allotted up to $30 million (with matching funds from private donations) to establish a federal sanctuary system that could potentially house as many as 900 chimpanzees. But the act does not call for a ban on using chimpanzees in research.


What is life like for a chimpanzee in a research lab?
Chimpanzees used in research are often subjected to many painful and distressing procedures such as numerous liver biopsies and injections of human viruses. In addition, laboratory chimpanzees are frequently kept in isolation. In the wild, chimpanzees live in diverse social groups and may travel several miles in one day. If lab chimpanzees do not die from invasive research procedures, they can live up to 50 years, most of which are spent in a cold cage that by law may be as small as 5’ x 5’ x 7’, about the size of a small closet. Laboratory conditions cannot meet the basic biological, emotional and social needs of these complex creatures.  As a result, chimpanzees used in research have been documented as suffering from depression, heightened aggression, frustration and even self-mutilation.


Do animals feel pain?
It has been demonstrated that many animals do feel physical and emotional pain. Chimpanzees, our closest primate cousins, are highly intelligent and social animals, and, as such, are especially sensitive to physical and emotional pain. Like humans, they exhibit a range of emotions including pleasure, depression, anxiety, pain, distress, empathy and grief.


What is invasive research?
The bill defines “invasive research” as research that can cause death, bodily injury, pain, distress, fear, injury, or trauma to great apes. This includes drug testing or exposure to a substance that may be detrimental to the ape's health or psychological well-being.


What can I do to support the bill?
Write to the members of Congress who represent you and ask them to co-sponsor the Great Ape Protection Act.


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