Monday, December 26, 2011

2012 - Year of the Chimpanzee

If we are ever going to get U.S. captive chimpanzees out of laboratories, basements, and filming studios and give them sanctuary, with the respect and care they deserve the year 2012 will be pivotal. In fact, I believe that 2012 will be the Year of the Chimpanzee. So I’ve started a new Facebook page,, to bring together news of all the organizations, events, and people who are fighting for new U.S. policies on chimpanzees.
2012 is the year to stop
chimp research
The National Institutes of Health is on the brink of stopping the flow of federal dollars for unnecessary chimpanzee research, although we still have fights ahead on what exactly is “unnecessary.” (I believe that all invasive research is unnecessary and wasteful, not to mention cruel.)
The Fish and Wildlife Service has asked for comments on whether to consider designating ALL chimpanzees, captive and free, as endangered. If history is any indication, the designation process will be long and hard. The research industry will bring everything into this fight.
April 2012 will mark the five-year anniversary of Congressional consideration of the Great Ape Protection Act without ever having a vote on any of the bills. This year, I will not be a chump. I will not donate to the campaign of any member of the House or Senate until they co-sponsor AND VOTE on the bills.
These policy considerations are underway just as the public is experiencing the Year of the Chimpanzee in popular entertainment.
Project Nim, a wonderful film about a chimpanzee who was the subject of language research in the 1970s, is on everyone’s short list for a Best Documentary nomination in the Academy Awards.
Andy Serkis, the world’s leading performance capture artist, brilliantly portrayed the leading revolutionary chimpanzee in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and should be nominated for an Oscar if there is any justice in this world.
For Earth Day 2012, Disney is releasing Chimpanzeea true story about a family of wild chimps in Africa.
2011 was a great year for books, and will be hard to top in 2012. Unsaid, a touching novel written by Neil Abramson, says so much about the agony of chimpanzees (and their caregivers) in research. Andrew Westoll’s book, The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, was a heart-wrenching true story about the rescue and rehabilitation of chimpanzees from the infamous research programs at LEMSIP.

And, on the cutting edge, Lincoln Park Zoo and Project ChimpCARE released a free iPad book for children, Chimps Should be Chimps.
With Disney, Andy Serkis, Nim, FWS, NIH, and Congress all in the news in 2012, and armed with the fantastic books from 2011, we have an historic opportunity for public education. Let's make it count for something!
2012 will be the Year of the Chimpanzee, I have no doubt. Start the year with us on Facebook.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Do Bill Maher and Jon Stewart get free passes to exploit the use of chimps in advertising?

Maybe guys like Bill and Jon simply don’t know that using chimps in gratuitous efforts to promote their products actually hurts conservation education efforts. Maybe they don’t know how hard and how passionately animal welfare advocates are working to get marketers and filmmakers to stop exploiting chimps for crass commercialism. Or maybe they just don’t care.
Maybe Jon and Bill think that just because they didn’t personally interact with the apes, using the images of chimps is okay. It’s not.

According to a study conducted by Steve Ross, images putting chimps into human settings is not okay. Steve followed up on 2008 survey data showing that “the public is less likely to think that chimpanzees are endangered compared to other great apes, and that this is likely the result of media misportrayals in movies, television and advertisements.” Steve’s new research found that people “seeing images in which chimpanzees are shown in typically human settings (such as an office space) were more likely to perceive wild populations as being stable and healthy compared to those seeing chimpanzees in other contexts.”
In other words, ads like those used by Maher and Stewart hurt our ability to convince the public that chimps are endangered and need our protection.
Bill Maher recently resurrected his old ad showing three chimps wearing Santa hats and religious necklaces, to promote his movie about religion. Yeah, we get the joke, Bill. But I hear you are a board member of PETA (although PETA is less than transparent about their board members!) and, if you are, you have no excuse for not taking the PETA Great Ape Humane Pledge. Didn't anyone explain this to you when you first came out with this ad? The pledge, taken by responsible advertising and marketing firms, is very simple. It says that they will not use live great apes for advertising, entertainment, or any other purpose.
Jon Stewart, your use of a chimp in an office setting is even more enduring than Maher’s ad. For the cover of your book, Earth (The Book), you chose an image of yourself and Ricky, a circus chimp, sitting at a desk. Of course, by the time chimpanzee advocates saw the book, it was too late to do anything about it, at least for the edition that had already been printed. So hundreds of people asked you to at least have a guest who could talk about the problem of using chimps as promotional gimmicks. As far as I know, no one was asked to appear on the Daily Show.
I’ve heard from a friend who questions my objections. “I regard eliminating the exploitation of chimpanzees as a real uphill battle. I wholeheartedly support you as a courageous defender of these primates,” he writes. However, he goes on, “I fear that you may be dismissed by those whom you would like to influence if you insist that even representations of chimps in human settings never be used commercially.”
I appreciate the concern, and understand his perspective. But all of these images, coming at people for years and years, are a large part of the reason this is such an uphill fight! We’ve accepted the use of zany chimps for our entertainment, and thus we perpetuate the practices that bring these animals into our lives. The chimps in these images are trained by owners who use the same subjugation and social isolation techniques not to mention beatings and other physical abuse used by my dad and other trainers over the decades. Even if Maher and Stewart’s graphic designers used digital techniques to add the religious necklaces or put the chimps at Jon’s desk, trainers got hard cash for the use of their chimps. Directly or indirectly, by using these images, Maher and Stewart are supporting the ape exploitation industry. Just as importantly, they are setting a horrible example for all entertainers.
I love Maher and Stewart, and watch their shows whenever I can. I thought Maher’s movie, Religulous, was great. I have to admit, I found Stewart’s book less than intriguing and I wouldn’t recommend it. But regardless of whether we like these guys, or even whether we like their products, we need to let them know that their use of chimpanzees for product promotion is wrong. We expect better from them.
Bill, take down your Facebook promotion using the chimps, and take the image out of your profile album.
Jon, we’re still waiting for a guest appearance by someone (Steve Ross?) who can speak intelligently about the misportrayals of apes in advertising.
Fellow animal welfare advocates, if you want to let these men know that you disapprove of their use of chimps for product promotion, I suggest going to their Facebook pages and letting them know.
Hmm, I wonder what would be a good hashtag on Twitter… #noapesinads? #keepchimpsinthewildandoutofyourmarketingcampaign? What do you think?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Today U.S. lab chimps get a life sentence, while freed chimps experience grass

December 15, 2011, is a momentous day for chimpanzees subjected to traumatic research.
At 8 am, caregivers at Save the Chimps sanctuary in Florida were making final preparations for introducing ten recently rescued lab chimpanzees to grass. After ten years of moving nearly 300 chimpanzees from a biomedical lab in New Mexico to a beautiful sanctuary home in Florida, Save the Chimps gave the last group of ten former lab chimps a gift that is an intrinsic right of chimpanzee-hood: the ability to walk out into the sunshine for a final release to an island that is all theirs.
At the same time, bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., were making final preparations for introducing the public to the next sorry chapter in federally supported research on nearly a thousand chimpanzees in steel cages. After 60 years of federally funded traumatic research on thousands and thousands of chimps (see Kathleen Conlee’s excellent history on chimpanzee research), the Committee on the Use of Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research gave the 937 federally owned or supported chimpanzees a life sentence in the research program. Little hope of parole, with nothing but a federally funded necropsy at the end of their lives.
Committee members Warner Greene, Jeffrey Kahn, and Sharon Terry brief the public on the report "Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research: Assessing the Necessity"
To be sure, the Committee's recommendations made some nice sounding statements. The National Institutes of Health should limit the use of chimpanzees to studies that meet certain criteria. (See Barbara King’s NPR blog for a discussion on those criteria.) But listen closely to what the committee members only hinted at during the briefing. All the current facilities are fine. They could not cite research that did not meet the criteria. The feds have to keep chimps for the future, for some unseen and unexpected potential need. NOTHING CHANGES for the chimps in the research programs. (Oh, okay, NIH concedes a temporary moratorium, while the furor dies down.)
Many animal welfare advocacy groups, who have spent five years promoting a bill - the Great Ape Protection Act - that has never been put up for a vote, and doesn’t appear to be on the congressional agenda in the future, will present this report as a positive step forward. They have to do that to keep their supporters hopeful and involved. But I don’t see it that way. Surprising enough, I agree with one of the leaders of the pro-research industry. As James Gorman, NY Times, reports:
But Dr. Thomas Rowell, director of the New Iberia Research Center in New Iberia, La. — which houses 471 chimpanzees, more than any other center in the country — also said he was “quite pleased” with the report. He said, “It just confirms what we’ve been saying all along in regard to the chimpanzee model for advancing public health research.”
Save the Chimps founder Carole Noon had a dream of a new life for the chimpanzees who were living their nightmares in solitary confinement at the Coulston Foundation compound. Her dream is now reality.
I desperately hope I'm wrong, but it appears to me that the 937 chimpanzees owned or supported by the federal government have only a tiny chance for daydreams. Their nightmares are their reality. Perhaps forever.

P.S. As I listened to the committee briefing, I was especially intrigued by one of their "general conclusions." The report states that: "application of the committee's criteria would provide a framework to assess scientific necessity to guide the future use of chimpanzees in biomedical, comparative genomics, and behavioral research." The future use. So I asked a question about it. This is a transcript of the exchange:

Dawn – “I’d like to have some clarity, please, on what you consider future research. As you know, while you were considering this, the NIH in September approved a $19 million grant to put the Alamogordo chimps back into Southwestern’s program. As I understand, $471 thousand was supposed to cover FY11, and the additional funds are for the next four years, including a public relations campaign, education campaign, and advertisements for the use of chimps for research. Would you consider that $19 million grant future research or current research not under the purview of the recommendations?”
Jeffrey Kahn – “The nice thing for us is that we don’t need to answer that question the way that you asked it. We have crafted recommendations that can be applied to ongoing research as well as any future research that may be proposed. So we would encourage the NIH, when they make their announcement about the recommendations and what they choose to implement, to apply the criteria to the question that you asked. It was outside of our purview to answer the question about whether any particular project would be (unintelligible).”
Dawn – “Oh, I just thought that since you did do case studies about particular projects that you might look at the project that was the impetus for the entire exercise.”
Jeffrey Kahn – “We looked at areas of research but we did not look at any particular project. Thanks for your question.”
- End of exchange -
Please note, the committee’s PowerPoint slides reported on nine case studies: on Monocolonal Antibodies, development of mAbs; Monocolonal Antibodies, safety testing of mAbs; Therepeutic HCV Vaccine; Prophylactic HCV Vaccine; Comparative Genomics (FOXP2); Joint Attention Cognition; Respiratory Syncytial Virus; HCV Antiviral Drugs; and Altruism.
After the briefing, the NIH director evidently told the New York Times that, for now, the Alamogordo chimpanzees will remain where they are.

UPDATE, 12/21/2011: Am I being too cynical about this? Should I trust NIH more than I do? I like the Jane Goodall Institute's approach, and I hope they are right. They are certainly right in calling for transparency.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Feds pay for chimp research industry’s PR campaign

How much longer will the National Institutes of Health get away with it? Will Congress, or the White House, ever rein in this out-of-control agency?
The latest outrage can be seen in a funding proposal from Texas Biomedical Research Institute, aka Southwest National Primate Research Center, approved by the NIH. (See this editorial, NIH Intent on Cruel, Worthless Chimp Tests, by the Albuquerque Journal.) Not only did NIH agree to pay SNPRC $19 million to bring old and tired chimpanzees back into research, despite telling the public that they would not do that until they considered recommendations (not yet issued) from an advisory committee, but they are also paying for the chimp research industry’s public relations campaign!

Text from Southwestern's grant application lays out a PR program funded by taxpayers' dollars. NIH approved the proposal.
 As Marc Bekoff points out in a great blog post, Chimps in Research: Lies, lies, and more lies, deception at NIH is a regular occurrence. But as government budgets are being slashed, and worthwhile federal programs are being eliminated, it never occurred to me that NIH could be this cavalier with taxpayer funds.

How long will it go on? Misleading the public - lying - is unacceptable. Using scarce federal dollars for useless research, and destroying the final years of old chimpanzees in the process, is repulsive. Paying a bioinvasive research facility to conduct a PR campaign to try to slow the public’s growing disapproval of chimpanzee research is an outrageous abuse of NIH’s authority.
Since the Obama Administration is not reining in their agency, congressional leaders need to step in and stop:
·         NIH nonfeasance, particularly in the case of illegal breeding of federal chimps at New Iberia
·         NIH misfeasance, particularly in the case of using taxpayer money for the chimpanzee research industry’s PR campaign
·         NIH malfeasance, particularly in the case of misleading the public on their intentions to re-commit old chimpanzees to traumatic research
Anyone who respects science, and who thinks that the federal government’s scientific agencies should at least be held to a minimum standard of conduct, should consider these steps:
First, Congressional appropriators need to insert language into the omnibus appropriations bill to withhold funds that are supposed to go to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in FY2012.
Second, Representative Darrell Issa needs to use his Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to investigate the rampant public contempt demonstrated by managers of the NIH chimpanzee research program.
Yes, legislators need to co-sponsor the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act (HR 1513 and SB 810), but that’s an easy face-saver. How many years are we going to wait for a hearing on this bill?
Yes, the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to fix the double standard of protection for chimpanzees, but do we really think NIH will respect an endangered species designation for captive chimpanzees?
The real threat to the health and wellbeing of chimpanzees is the National Institutes of Health, and its cozy relationship with the chimpanzee research centers. The relationship is cozy because of the research industry’s many decades of sucking at the federal teat.
But don’t worry; we’ll soon get ads telling children that cutting up chimpanzees is just lovely. Thanks to your taxpayer dollars.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Feds to send old chimps back into research, despite public disapproval?

The new DVD for the movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes is coming out at an opportune moment. Caesar, I feel your anger and I know, now, why the apes followed your revolution. Humans, and most especially the scientists and caregivers charged with your welfare, betrayed you.

We may be witnessing that betrayal, now, in real life, by the scientists at the National Institutes of Health and the Texas Biomedical Research Institute.

As documented by Brandon Keim in his article in Wired (NIH Accused of Dishonesty over Chimp Research Plans), NIH approved a grant to Texas Biomedical that would fund the re-introduction of tired, old, retired chimpanzees to active research. They did this even while they were assuring a gullible public (like me) that they would seriously listen to days of testimony, read reams of comments, and consider the recommendations of a special panel set up by the Institute of Medicine. (A panel, by the way, that was explicitedly directed to ignore the matter of ethics -- reflecting a continual failing at NIH, perhaps?)

This photo by Borderzine shows Juan, one of the chimps going back into research, hiding from people at his current Alamogordo facility. 
The IOM panel is due to issue its recommendations this month, but NIH approved Texas Biomedical's $19 million proposal in September. Did NIH always plan to ignore the panel's recommendation? Or did they know ahead of time what the recommendations would be? Or is it another stupid blunder by this error-prone agency?

This cynical move by a tone-deaf NIH has serious implications for the chimpanzees, but also for the federal government and, most especially, for the public's growing mistrust of federal science. Thinking people know that Climategate is a fraud. Solyndra was a mistake. But this deliberate betrayal of the public confidence, if the allegations are true, is an outrage. If the facts stand, I believe the people at NIH are helping to dig the ever-deeper grave for publicly funded science.

I have asked for a meeting with my congressional representative, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who was an early co-sponsor of the Great Ape Protection Act. I have asked for help from Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Sen. Daniel Inouye, and Rep. George Miller, all strong advocates for federal science. Congress, and the Obama White House, need to step in to cutoff this overreach by a federal agency running amok.

If reason, ethics, and a strong scientific consensus on stopping chimpanzee research don't sway these legislators, I will send each of them a Rise of the Planet of the Apes DVD. If I can't convince them, maybe Caesar can.

UPDATE, DEC 4: Marc Bekoff wrote Chimpanzees in Research: Lies, Lies, and More Lies, in his Psychology Today blog. (You won't be surprised to discover that I added my two cents worth in the comments section.)

My blog on Aug 11, 2011, public meeting of federal panel considering the use of chimps in research
My blog on Aug 12, 2011, public meeting of federal panel considering the use of chimps in research

UPDATE, DEC 11: The federal advisory committee will release their recommendations on using chimpanzees in research on December 15. They will have a public briefing from 11am to noon. Given NIH's confident preparations to transfer the federally-owned chimps to Texas, I am not optimistic about these recommendations.

My efforts to convince legislators to stop the transfer? Sen. Mikulski's scheduler told me that a staff member would meet with me to discuss the issue, but that hasn't happened. Recognizing that staffers are very busy now, I sent him my idea on how we can stop the chimp transfer for 2012. We'll see. I got a form letter email from Rep. Van Hollen, telling me he is a co-sponsor of the Great Ape Protection Act. (Great, but that wasn't what I was asking and, besides, he sent that exact email to me earlier, when I did ask him to co-sponsor the bill.) Silence from Senator Inouye but, to be fair, he is chair of the Appropriations Committee and has a couple trillion issues on his plate right now. (NOTE TO SELF: Start lobbying now on fiscal year 2013 appropriations withholdings.)

UPDATE, Dec 13: I had the opportunity to discuss the federal chimpanzee research program with Senator Mikulski's staff today. I was very impressed with staff awareness of the issues, insightful questions, and thoughtful listening. I am confident that Senator Mikulski will receive a comprehensive and objective briefing, and I'm sure they will continue to follow NIH's actions affecting the fate of the Alamogordo chimpanzees.

UPDATE, Dec 15: Following the release of the Institute of Medicine Report that Assessess the Necessity of chimpanzees in research, the New York Times is reporting: "Dr. Collins confirmed that for now, the Alamogordo chimps would stay where they are."

(Amusing note: During the Q&A session at today's public briefing, I asked the committee chairman whether the Alamogordo chimp grant was covered by the report's reference to "new or renewed grants," and the chair responded that "we don't need to answer your question in the way that you asked." Well, harumph to you, too, sir.)