Thousands of chimpanzees have been used in bioinvasive medical research over the decades. It was a punch in the gut when I found out that the Detroit Zoo sent some of their chimpanzees into research programs. Most disheartening is the fate of Bobby, Chico, and Sammy. The Detroit Zoo sold them to “Tulane” on 7 October 1964.
It is not clear which Tulane facility Detroit sent them to.
Earlier in 1964, Dr. Keith Reemtsma, a surgeon at Tulane’s School of Medicine, was harvesting chimpanzee kidneys to transplant into humans. Reemtsma tried six chimp-human kidney transplants from November 1963 to April 1964, all failures. Adverse public (and professional) reaction erupted after another surgeon attempted a chimpanzee-human heart transplant, and some transplant experimentation seemed to go underground. In his thorough examination of the history of transplant surgery , author Tony Stark (Knife to the Heart: The Story of Transplant Surgery), quotes Reemtsma in 1964:
“We would emphasize… that we regard this work as wholly experimental. Under the circumstances only the most stringent precautions will make such work justified and justifiable.”
Secrecy was one such precaution, Stark points out.
The three Detroit Zoo chimpanzees were sent to Tulane after the six publicly acknowledged kidney transplant experiments. I don’t know if the medical school used Bobby, Chico, and Sammy for experiments. Another option may be that they could have been among the freshman class of primates used for research by the Tulane National Primate Research Center, which was just setting up operations in 1964.
I’ve asked TNPRC if they have any historical records about these three chimpanzees, and I’ll report here if they reply. In the meantime, I am honored that chimpanzee experts and advocates read this blog. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any information about “Tulane” chimpanzee research in 1964 or 1965.
Bobby, Chico, and Sammy entertained Detroit Zoo visitors for seven years, while my dad was a chimp trainer. These chimpanzees likely gave their lives as experimental projects. They deserve more than anonymous deaths.