deserve better treatment than 'retirement'
Mexico's Gov. Bill Richardson has met with National Institutes of Health
officials in a last-ditch effort to stop NIH from moving 202 "retired"
chimpanzees out of Holloman Air Force base and back into experiments.
is moving swiftly to transfer the chimpanzees into facilities so substandard
that caging conditions within them violate not only everything that we know
about what chimpanzees require but also federal law itself.
of the animals are 60 years old; some are left over from the space program.
Petitions and pleas by everyone from physicians, veterinarians and primatologists
to actors such as Gene Hackman have been ignored.
month, a Time magazine 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 sign language to communicate
with humans, they think a lot.
more pressing question is now, "What is NIH thinking?" And the
answer isn't befitting America's level of awareness about animals and its
commitment to their protection.
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.
cases, "retirement" has meant a continuation of solitary confinement
but no more invasive and painful procedures. Imbued with active, intelligent
minds, naturally inclined to complex social relationships, as capable of
falling in love and carefully raising their children as humans, they sit
and wait, alone, with not even a blanket or an orange to keep them company.
It is cruel and unusual punishment for a thinking being, but it is still
far better than also being cut apart and sewn back up every so often, the
fate that now awaits them again if NIH does not stop this wretched plan.
has already moved 15 of the "retired" chimpanzees to a Texas facility
that has failed to meet federal minimum standards for the care of animals.
Federal minimum standards for chimpanzees, by the way, require no more than
enough room in which to stand, sit and turn around -- for life. Charles
River Laboratories, which operates the Alamogordo Primate Facility, another
dungeon-like laboratory complex as notoriously inhumane as Devil's Island,
plans to start experimenting on these and the other chimpanzees soon.
Sagan once wondered if those who experiment on nonhuman primates would fare
as well as their subjects if the tables were turned. At first, he thought
they would. But in one experiment, in which monkeys were only permitted
to eat if they pulled a lever that administered an electric shock to another
monkey, the monkeys chose to abstain from food for up to 14 days, even if
they didn't know the monkey being shocked. Sagan had to wonder how many
human beings in the same situation would be so selfless.
administration is to be seen as remotely humane, President Barack Obama
must act quickly to stop the NIH officials. The chimpanzees being moved
are not a testament to our society's quest for understanding and compassion
but rather a testament to its ability to betray, for a few bucks, those
that depend on us for mercy.
Republished from the
Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 26, 2010 A12