Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Obama Administration asks: Should we continue double standards giving U.S. captive chimps less protection than wild chimps?

UPDATE 11/1/2011:
Scientists and governments have known for years that chimpanzees are endangered. In 1996, they officially put chimpanzees on the IUCN endangered species list. The U.S. government agrees, chimpanzees are endangered. Normally, when U.S. residents hear that an animal is endangered, according to the Endangered Species Act, they expect the government to actually protect that species. With chimpanzees, however, people’s expectations would be in vain. The U.S. government officially set up a double standard to protect the “rights” of research and entertainment industries (and private individuals and anyone else) to exploit U.S. captive chimpanzees.
Earlier this year, several animal welfare organizations asked the Obama Administration to end the double standard, to give endangered captive chimpanzees the same protections they give to their wild cousins. The Fish and Wildlife Service asked for public comments on the request. On October 31, the Fish and Wildlife Service closed their 90-day comment period, after more than 9600 comments were filed with the agency. On November 1, FWS re-opened the comments for an additional 90 days. FWS says it is "making the petition and the large volume of supporting documents submitted with the petition available to the public."
This should give everyone a chance to see the submissions from the members of the research and entertainment industries. Personally, I can’t wait to explore the comments. I really want to see how these industries justify their desire to keep the double standard, to continue with chimp exploitation business as usual.
The November 1, 2011 Federal Register announcement from FWS
Comments and supporting documents for Docket No. FWS-R9-ES-2010-0086
 From August 31, 2011:
I usually don't print press releases verbatim, but this one is important. The U.S. government wants to hear from you about chimpanzees in captivity!  For excellent background on the debate, see the AAAS Science Journal. The Humane Society has set up an easy way for you to urge the government to protect captive chimpanzees.

(P.S. Note that the American zoo group is a major supporter of this effort to reclassify captive chimpanzees as endangered. I truly believe that the "chimp men" of the old zoos would be immensely proud of today's professionals in the AZA Chimpanzee Species Survival Program. BRAVO, AZA!)  
- Dawn
August 31, 2011
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) will initiate a status review to determine whether reclassifying all captive chimpanzees from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is warranted.
Currently, wild chimpanzees are listed as endangered, and captive chimpanzees are listed as threatened. Captive chimpanzees within the United States are covered by a special rule allowing activities otherwise prohibited by the ESA.
Following an initial review of a petition from The Humane Society of the United States, the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums, the Jane Goodall Institute, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance, the Fund for Animals, Humane Society International, and the New England Anti-Vivisection Society requesting all chimpanzees, whether found in the wild or in captivity,  be listed as endangered, the Service will undertake a more thorough review to determine if the requested action is warranted.
The petition finding does not mean that the Service has decided it is appropriate to list all chimpanzees as endangered under the ESA. Rather, this finding is the first step in a process that triggers a more thorough review of all the biological information available. The finding will publish in the Federal Register on September 1, 2011.
To ensure this status review is comprehensive, the Service is soliciting information from all interested parties regarding the status of this species in the wild and in captivity, including threats to the species and its habitat, information on management programs for chimpanzees, and information relevant to whether any populations of this species may qualify as distinct population segments.
Written comments and information concerning this proposal can be submitted by one of the following methods:
Federal eRulemaking Portal: Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. [FWS–R9–ES–2010–0086]; or
U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: [FWS–R9–ES–2010–0086]; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.
Comments must be received within 60 days, on or before October 31, 2011. The Service will post all comments on This generally means the agency will post any personal information provided through the process. The Service is not able to accept email or faxes.
Following an analysis of the comments and any new information that may become available during the comment period, the Service will move forward as appropriate with the development of and publication of the status review of this species.
The ESA provides a critical safety net for fish, wildlife and plants and to date has prevented the extinction of hundreds of imperiled species, as well as promoting the recovery of many others. The Service is actively engaged with conservation partners and the public in the search for improved and innovative ways to conserve and recover imperiled species. To learn more about the Endangered Species program’s Branch of Foreign Species, visit:

Monday, August 22, 2011

Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary honors Tom and challenges us

Tom died on December 10, 2009. I never knew him, but he was made of the stuff that we all hope we’ll find in our genes when we face life’s challenges. This month, thanks to Andrew Westoll’s book, The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A True Story of Resilience and Recovery, I had the wonderful and awful opportunity to meet Tom and other “retired” research chimpanzees.
Westoll tells the story of chimpanzees from LEMSIP, one of the infamous primate research laboratories. He tells of their rescue by Gloria Grow, who gives the chimpanzees a chance for some small degree of normalcy at her Fauna Foundation sanctuary. But he does much, much more than that. He honors his readers by letting us experience deep and honest empathy for real beings.
The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary is not a fictionalized attempt to play with our emotions. It is not a tale of make-believe corporate villains and sexy primatologists. This is the real deal, and Westoll's true narrative hits multiple targets with unnerving precision. The targets? The heart, which aches for these chimpanzees and for the people who are their caregivers. The gut, which wrenches with the realization that nearly a thousand chimpanzees -- still in laboratories -- are experiencing the sickening trauma that created havoc with these lives. And the head that reels with the absolute certainty that research on chimpanzees must stop. Now.
Mr. Westoll has done all of us a favor by writing so beautifully about these chimpanzees. In the end, his sensitive yet vivid portrayal gives us more than knowledge... it gives us the moral challenge to right this dreadful wrong.
So many people are now trying to right the wrong. Giving testimony at the recent federal meetings considering the use of chimpanzees in research, Theodora Capaldo, speaking for Project Release & Restitution, tried to help committee members visualize the too real consequences of research when she described the heartbreaking results of Tom’s autopsy. (If you want to read about the devastation done to Tom’s body, see page 8 of Theodora’s written testimony.)
We need to find a way to honor Tom, permanently. Getting chimpanzees out of research and into sanctuaries would be a fitting honor.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Day two at the federal committee meeting on using chimpanzees in research

Public deliberations ended this morning. I’ve got to try very hard to keep my optimism from overtaking my more pragmatic expectations for the committee’s recommendations on chimpanzees in research. During my 30+ years of working in public affairs, for or with all levels of government, I’ve seen committee reports make totally unexpected swings, usually attributable to the voices we didn’t hear during testimony or deliberations.
With that said, however, I must admit to being a tiny bit encouraged by the presentations yesterday and today. Last night I gave a sense of my reaction yesterday. Today was even better.
Bioterrorism is often thrown up as the big fear factor to keep chimpanzees handy for testing the response to… well… whatever. Is it a legitimate reason, or a canard?
Is chimpanzee research critical to the health security of the U.S. “No,” answered Joseph Bielitzki, an expert on security research.
Is there a role for chimpanzees in biodefense research? “No,” said James Swearengen, from the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center. He’s not aware of any past use of chimpanzees, there is no current use, and he doesn’t envision the need for chimpanzees in the future.
The same question on biodefense was put to Michael Kurilla, director of biodefense research at the National Institutes of Health. Mr. Kurilla phrased his “no” in government-speak: chimpanzees do not offer any advantage over any other animal model.
The only presenter today who asserted that chimpanzees were needed (although he failed to make the case that they were “necessary,” which is a small but important difference) was Thomas Rowell, director of New Iberia Research Center, which has 360 chimpanzees, 120 of whom are considered “NIH chimps.” About 8 percent of his income is from outside use of his chimpanzees for the biomedical “chimp model.”  (To view a video of conditions at New Iberia, see this report from the Humane Society.) Rowell told the committee that requests for chimpanzees were declining, and when committee members asked him if the chimpanzees were necessary for those requests, he spoke in terms of profitability for pharma and biotech companies. “I remember when their stocks split!” he declared when talking about a “promising” result from research. “Smaller companies will be handicapped,” he explained, noting that they didn’t have access to emerging alternative research tools like Big Pharma does.
In last night’s blog, I failed to mention the considerations on using chimpanzees in behavioral research. As much as I admire Frans De Waal, I must say that he did not have a compelling answer to the question of necessity in the current research paradigm. “If we didn’t have chimpanzees in behavioral research, what would be lost?” he was asked. He responded that we would lose the evolutionary framework for studying humans. Beyond that, the major justification seems to be that chimpanzee behavioral studies are useful for informing human mental health research, although Frans conceded there wasn’t a direct connection. (Regular readers of my blog might guess that I have a very personal interest in this line of research.) Judging by the reactions of the committee members, I am not sure they were convinced that that is an overwhelming justification for studying chimpanzees at the Yerkes Center rather than in African sanctuaries. It seems to be a matter of convenience, one presenter suggested, that U.S. centers have the technology and equipment and caging, and some researchers don’t want to spend time in Africa. I will be very interested to see what the committee recommends on this.
The Committee on the Use of Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research will now recede from the public view, at least for the next couple of weeks. They will write their report, and anonymous reviewers will critique it. The plan is to issue a public report by the end of the calendar year.
To borrow a couple of weasel words, I am cautiously optimistic. I will be shocked if nothing changes, but I’m not sure how far the committee will go in curtailing the use of chimpanzees. Almost all of the objective presenters (those whose incomes/profits don’t depend on the use of chimpanzees) stated that chimpanzees are no longer required for research. Unfortunately, my experience tells me to fear the voice that doesn’t speak during public meetings.

If you'd like to send comments to the committee go to this site.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Day one at the federal committee meeting on using chimpanzees in research

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus? Hey, at least they are in the same universe. At today’s meeting of the federal committee that is examining America’s policy on the use of chimpanzees in biomedical research, I felt like the biomedical research industry and the opponents to invasive chimp research live in different galaxies. With a gigantic black hole dividing them.
When most people look at this picture, they think it is a chimpanzee. His name is Tom. On the other hand, I learned today that if you do biomedical research you don’t see a chimpanzee named Tom. You see an “animal system,” a “case,” an “animal model.” Or, the director of the Oregon National Primate Research Center explained, the animal is what one of her colleagues called “a lovely term: a living medical library.” It (not he) has a name. It is something along the lines of “4x0139.”
Jane Goodall, who spoke by videoconference to the meeting today, crystallized the difference between these opposite sides of the galaxy. When you look at a chimpanzee as an individual, she pointed out, you must consider ethics to inform your considerations. Unfortunately, I learned today, the industry doesn’t look at chimpanzees as individuals. And besides, the committee has been directed by the National Institutes of Health to base recommendations on protocols, published literature, scientific evidence, and its judgment. Ethics are not mentioned.
Identification of the chimpanzee isn’t the only difference between the two sides. They each approach the whole question of modern research differently. “The past is prologue,” said one research industry speaker. “I don’t know how we do this without the animal model,” said another. “Can’t be done,” another agreed. (Note: Genentech and GlaxoSmithKline have stopped using chimpanzees and are now setting a powerful example for their reticent colleagues in the industry.)
Goodall, on the other hand, was inspirational and positive. She spoke softly, but forcefully. “We are at a crossroads for chimpanzees,” she told the group. “Because of the explosion of technology over the past ten years, we now have an opportunity to find a new way forward.”
Several presenters took up Goodall’s challenge. Brian Hare, an assistant professor with the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University, gave a riveting presentation on finding that new way forward. He presented intriguing potentials for alternative research sites. Instead of studying chimpanzees in a stressful lab environment, why not try to work respectfully with zoos and sanctuaries, especially sanctuaries in Africa?
A series of three-minute presentations from the public followed Hare’s presentation, and most of them offered intriguing differences from the almost unanimous monotone chorus of the biomedical research industry.
Lincoln Park Zoo’s Steve Ross suggested that using chimpanzees in zoos offers compelling alternatives. Sue Leary, president of the Alternatives Research and Development Foundation, pointed out that the industry assumed that using alternatives would mean a loss, when the opposite is true and that innovative researchers need to think differently.
Beth Cataldo, the president of the San Francisco chapter of the Cetacean Society USA, caught the audience's attention when she compared the industry’s traditional fixation on chimpanzee research to the innovative approaches of the next generation of whale and dolphin researchers.
Raija Bettauer, a retired researcher, told the committee that any program that used chimpanzees must demonstrate relevancy, while now much is just implied. Pamela Osenkowski, with the National Anti-Vivisection Society, charged that there are significant flaws with the “chimp model.”
Several of the public speakers challenged the committee. Laura Bonar, of Animal Protection of New Mexico, forcefully argued that the committee cannot separate ethics from their considerations without violating the public trust. Eric Kleiman, the research director at In Defense of Animals, gave a particularly forceful statement on the lack of transparency at the research centers. He boldly told the committee that they cannot render judgment on the efficacy and safety of research without the ability to examine the records.
Other persuasive statements were offered by representatives of the Humane Society of the United States, the Animal Welfare Institute, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and PETA.
Theodora Capaldo, speaking for Project Release & Restitution, tried to help committee members visualize the too real consequences of research when she described the heartbreaking results of the autopsy of Tom (see picture above), a research chimpanzee who finally found sanctuary at Fauna Foundation.
Despite the same old, same old thinking of research industry representatives, I actually left today’s meeting more hopeful than when I entered. Perusing the backgrounds of the Committee on the Use of Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research, it appears that most members would support the continued use of chimpanzees in research. I was impressed, though, with the question and answer sessions. Several of the committee members asked probing questions, challenged researchers' assumptions, and seemed open to new thinking. I am cautiously hopeful that they are taking Jane Goodall’s challenge to heart. Perhaps, maybe, possibly, they will look at chimpanzees as more than “living medical libraries.” Maybe they will see Tom.

Update: My feelings about day two, here.

If you'd like to send comments to the committee, go here.

Monday, August 8, 2011

How real is Rise of the Planet of the Apes?

How real is Rise of the Planet of the Apes?
That’s the question that great ape advocates hope audiences will ask themselves as they walk out of movie theaters and talk about how good the movie is. (And it is good. Very, very good!)

Q. Are those real apes in the movie?

No. Those apes are humans, whose performances are captured by an innovation called computer-generated imagery, or CGI. To see how technology captured actor Andy Serkis' fantastic performance as Caesar, see this clip. Producer Rupert Wyatt did not want to use real chimpanzees in the movie. As he told Peter Singer, there were practical reasons for not using animals, but he also understood the ethical issue. "There are things I didn't want to be involved in" he told Singer. "To get apes to do anything you want them to do, you have to dominate them; you have to manipulate them in performing. That's exploitive."

Q. Do companies really experiment on chimpanzees?
Yes. The U.S. is the only country in the world (besides Gabon) that allows bioinvasive research on chimpanzees. In fact, not only does the government permit experiments, the federal government owns many hundreds of chimpanzees for the sole purpose of conducting research on them. For more information, see Release & Restitution for Chimpanzees in U.S. Laboratories.  
Q. Are sanctuaries as bad as the one Caesar is put into?
Absolutely not, not the accredited ones. I wish everyone could see what accredited U.S. and Canadian sanctuaries are really like. The chimpanzees and orangutans are as healthy as is possible under captive conditions. Of course, many of the animals are in the sanctuary because they were previously living in horrible conditions – in entertainment, as pets, or in research – but the sanctuaries give them an opportunity to recover. See the links to sanctuaries at Project ChimpCare, or go directly to the website of my favorite sanctuary, Center for Great Apes.

How do you tell if a sanctuary is legit? Here are some hints: If it breeds animals, separates youngsters from their mothers, and/or takes young animals on tour to book signings or TV shows, it is not a real sanctuary.
To read more about chimpanzee experimentation AND sanctuaries, I highly recommend a new book, The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A True Story of Resilience and Recovery, by Andrew Westoll. If you are more into fiction (that nevertheless is “primate-accurate”) pick up a copy of UNSAID, a wonderful novel by Neil Abramson.
Q. Do people really keep chimpanzees as pets?
Unfortunately, yes. It is unfortunate for the chimpanzee, for the neighborhood, and ultimately for the owners who cannot really keep a chimpanzee healthy and happy for the 40 or 50 years of his natural life. Animal advocates are trying to stop the practice, for everyone’s sake, but so far Congress is turning a deaf ear. See this report on Senate Bill 1234 by the Humane Society of the United States.

Q. Did Andy Serkis deserve an Academy Award nomination for best actor?

Absolutely. I would argue that Caesar was every bit as good looking as perpetual nominees Brad Pitt and George Clooney, and his acting was just as good (if not better). Seriously, I truly believe that one day the Academy will recognize Andy's amazing work.