Sunday, May 13, 2012

What happens to old research chimps when the money runs out?

All indications point to the end, or at least the beginning of the end, of federal funding for research on chimpanzees. Hurrah! Soon the chimpanzees will have the retirement they so desperately deserve, in sanctuaries where they will run free in the sunshine! And they all live happily ever after!
Not so fast, especially if Yerkes National Primate Research Center is any indication.
Yerkes’ big grant for research on aging ended a couple of weeks ago, so the researcher stopped her work. Another chimpanzee research project could possibly start up again “doing auditory stuff,” from what I’ve heard but it is looking dead as well because funding is a big question.

This 1923 photo shows Dr. Robert M. Yerkes
with Chim, a bonobo (right), and Panzee,
a chimpanzee (right). The renowned
Dr. Yerkes thought both of the apes were

So, what will happen to the chimpanzees? Retirement in a sanctuary? Nope. While the National Institutes of Health has set up a working group to “consider the size and placement of the active and inactive populations of NIH-owned or -supported chimpanzees,” Yerkes is already planning what they will do with their chimpanzees. Yerkes is moving the young ones to the “Field Station,” where they will probably be used by Frans “Mr. Empathy” de Waal in his research.
The old chimps will just stay where they are, and die.

Yerkes will not send their senior chimpanzees to a sanctuary, even though the chimps deserve at least that after giving their entire lives to Yerkes’ research. I’ve heard it is because Yerkes doesn’t want to pay for the move. Plus, and I’m betting this is the real reason, Yerkes’ researchers want to look at the bodies of the dead chimps, to see their brains, etc. They may especially want to see the chimpanzees’ hearts. (Don’t get me wrong, I support studying apes’ hearts, especially if it involves the Great Ape Heart Project, since it will hopefully prevent cardiac disease in the captive ape population. But you would think that smart people could find a way to look at dead chimps after their death at a sanctuary…) If the elderly chimpanzees go to a place like Chimp Haven, they will just be cremated after they die, Yerkes’ researchers fear.  
The Yerkes researchers keep tabs on the Georgia Animal Rights and Protection protesters, who are leaders in the effort to convince Yerkes to retire Wenka and the other senior chimpanzees. People who have worked at Yerkes assure me that Yerkes is not going to retire Wenka. I was also told, “a host of the other chimps they [GARP] want released are already dead.”
Wouldn't Yerkes management at least have the heart to let us know about the deaths of the chimpanzees? No harm would come from that, surely?
Yerkes does not release the names of their dead animals. The only time the public gets a list is when someone from the inside “steals” the information. And then, the only way insiders will know is if he or she works with the chimpanzees and, even then, half the time they find out from someone other than the vets. In one major understatement, I’m told that Yerkes managers “are very protective of all that information.”
So the moral of this story, boys and girls, is not to get your hopes raised too high about sanctuary for the chimpanzees who have been used up by federally-supported research. People like Stuart Zola, director of Yerkes Research Center, want to keep the chimps for their brains and their hearts because, obviously, the people at Yerkes lack them.


  1. "Zoo Atlanta is the heart, if you will, of the Great Ape Heart Project, and the former head veterinarian from Zoo Atlanta is now at Yerkes." Please don't conflate unrelated events. Zoo Atlanta's former head veterinarian moved to Yerkes well before the GAHP arrived at Zoo Atlanta. GAHP came to ZA with the veterinarian who replaced the one who went to Yerkes, and the two did not overlap. Your referrral to this as a "coincidence" is true in the literal sense of the word, but not in the implied sense.

    Best regards,
    - Lori Perkins

    1. Lori, the "conflation" came from a source who is privy to thinking inside of Yerkes. I wouldn't even have known anything about the former Zoo Atlanta vet, without information from sources who wish to remain anonymous.

      In my book, facts always win. If the Great Ape Heart Project is NOT going to use the hearts from Yerkes, now would be a great time to announce it! I sincerely hope they do, so I can correct the informed speculation.

  2. Thank you Dawn for continuing to shine the light on Yerkes and their cruel mistreatment of chimpanzees.

  3. Agree, the researchers certainly lack heart (they do not however lack in the hubris department). At any rate, while the chances of them giving up the chimps is slim, it is the constant spotlight on the abuse that will ensure that someday we won't have this issue to deal with. Thank you for spreading the word about this, and thank you to all of the people who give their time and energy to educate the public about the plights of these chimps.

  4. Leave the lab alone. These chimps are animals, period. Do you eat meat? Then you are a ignorant fool because all animals are of equal value in life. So killing a cow is ok. These chimps served their purpose. Research of brains and hearts may save other chimps and humans. If you all worried as much about humans our world would be a nicer place. Chips are nasty shit eating violent apes.

  5. I find it so strange that Anyonymous believes those of us that care about Chimpanzees, care so little about humans. I love Chimpanzees, cats, dogs, bats, bears, etc. I also care deeply about humans. I am 59 years old, I will spend the rest of my life trying to help humans and chimpanzees, it's who I am.