Sunday, January 27, 2013

And that's all she wrote

After two years of blogging, I am now retiring Chimp Trainer's Daughter, while honoring the memory of Detroit Zoo chimpanzee Jo Mendi II.

Unbeknownst to either of us at the time, we shared so many common experiences in the 1950s. 

The lessons continue.

Dawn (Brown) Forsythe

Update, February 2, 2013:

Some of you may remember Gilda Radner's wonderful character, Emily Litella. Emily would make a heartfelt statement on SNL news, and get really wrapped up in it, only to find she had misunderstood. She then turned to the camera and, in a meek voice, squeaked out "Never mind."

I need to make my Emily Litella statement.

After announcing the blog's "retirement," a lot of people reminded me why I began this in the first place. I had lost heart -- but the comments and encouragement I've received in the past couple of days have gotten my blood flowing again. I am changing the retirement to a short hiatus.

So. "Never mind."

The blog will be back. Thanks for reminding me what is at stake.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Do we need a National Chimpanzee Foundation to raise money for lifetime care of retired federal chimps?

This week, the National Institutes of Health received recommendations to retire most federally-owned chimpanzees from research. NIH will announce its decisions in late March. I fully agree with most of the recommendations. My concern continues to be over the lack of funding resources that can be directed to the federal sanctuary system, to move chimps out of labs and into sanctuaries. Getting more money during a time of federal budget cutting is terribly difficult -- but perhaps Congress will be more willing to provide some funding for construction and animal care needs if they see a serious, long-term, matching private effort. Therefore, tonight I submitted comments urging NIH to consider supporting the establishment of a foundation similar to the National Park Foundation or the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, but focusing on providing lifetime support for retired federal chimpanzees.

Chartered by Congress in 1967, the National Park Foundation allows private citizens to contribute money that goes to establishing and protecting our national parks. A similar National Chimpanzee Foundation would be a charitable nonprofit dedicated solely to providing direct support of chimpanzees owned by the federal government.

My congressional representatives supported the Great Ape Protection Act during the last session. Tonight I asked them to consider sponsoring legislation to establish a National Chimpanzee Foundation.

What do you think? There's a quick poll on the right side of this blog and it's easy to vote. Or leave a comment below.

Update, Sept. 27, 2014: See America's Chimp Problem. We still haven't addressed the question of how to pay for the lifetime sanctuary care of the retired chimps.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Lack of money may block retirement for federal research chimps

Today I was at the meeting where the National Institutes of Health Council of Councils Working Group on the Use of Chimpanzees in NIH-Supported Research presented their final report

The working group developed an impressive set of recommendations, for the most part. The problem, as usual, is finding the money.

The group's first recommendation sets the tone:

“The majority of NIH-owned chimpanzees should be designated for retirement and transferred to the federal sanctuary system. Planning should start immediately to expand current facilities to accommodate these chimpanzees. The federal sanctuary system is the most species-appropriate environment currently available and thus is the preferred environment for long-term housing of chimpanzees no longer required for research.”

Recommendations would reduce federal research chimp population by 86%
Of the 451 federal research chimpanzees that will still be owned or supported by NIH after the 110 New Iberia chimpanzees are retired, the group recommends stopping federal support for research with all but 50 of them. (The Texas Biomedical Research Institute gets federal money in support of 91 chimps, but since NIH doesn’t own them, it cannot force Texas Biomedical to retire those chimpanzees – they can only cease funding.) Of the 360 now in research and owned by NIH, then, the group is recommending an 86% reduction of chimps used for federal research.

That reduction is great news – for everyone except for the 50 chimpanzees who carry on the disgraceful U.S. tradition of being the only country (besides Gabon) that allows bioinvasive research on chimps. I have to admit, I had a hard time wrapping my head around this. Although the group recommends keeping 50 chimps, it also recommended that NIH continue or “conditionally approve” nine of 13 current projects in comparative genomics or behavioral research. Those nine projects involve 290 chimpanzees. How would researchers continue research projects on 290 chimpanzees if only 50 of them remained in federal research programs? As I understand, two factors come into play here. The working group recommends that NIH consider funding research in “nontraditional” research settings that can maintain high standards of welfare, i.e., at zoos or sanctuaries, or in the wild, so we could get the chimps out of labs but still continue any work that is important to humankind and to science. Second, I came away from the meeting with a feeling that the "conditionally approved" projects won’t be approved again, once the current round of contracts are finished – because of a strict new review process set up in the recommendations. Even if the research is minimally invasive, the new standards would not justify keeping chimps in labs for current projects. Setting the population at 50 reinforces this momentum.

Recommendations envision a great retirement
We really couldn’t ask for better recommendations on physical and social environments required for all federally owned or supported chimpanzees. 

“Chimpanzee must have the opportunity to live in sufficiently large, complex, multi-male, multi-female social groupings, ideally consisting of at least 7 individuals,” Dr. Lloyd stated during the presentation. “Pairs, trios, and even small groups of 4 to 6 individuals do not provide the social complexity required to meet the social needs of this cognitively advanced species.”

“Chimpanzees must be housed in environments that provide outdoor access year round.”

And it gets even better. They should be able to walk on grass, climb, forage, construct nests, and have choice and self-determination.

The group recommends that the facilities employ experienced behaviorists, chimp trainers, and enrichment specialists. They note that positive reinforcement is the only acceptable method of training. And they emphasize that “personnel working with chimpanzees must receive training in core institutional values promoting psychological and behavioral well-being of chimpanzees in their care.”

We should be celebrating the progress! But we can’t… at least not yet.

There is no new money
We’ve all seen the battles in Congress over money. Some Congressional Republicans even think that the federal government should be shut down unless there are substantial cuts in the federal budget. Those fiscal realities are substantial roadblocks to accomplishing all that these recommendations envision.

The CHIMP Act, passed a decade ago, set a cap of $30 million for building the “federal sanctuary system” that is essentially Chimp Haven’s space for 150 chimps. More than $29 million has been spent, and NIH expects to reach the cap this summer. The Humane Society of the United States and others are raising money to build space for the 110 chimpanzees that were retired from New Iberia Research Center. That still leaves the 310 hopefully soon-to-be-retired chimpanzees homeless. They may have to stay right where they are – in the research labs.

Unlike the cap imposed on payments to Chimp Haven, there is no cap on payments made to research labs for housing and feeding the research chimps. The group recommends that seven of the eight “colony housing and care projects” are conditionally approved to continue. They end the research component of the projects, but would continue to pay the facilities for maintenance of the chimpanzees in “transitional housing conditions” for the next three to five years. Hopefully, by then, real sanctuary space could be developed, and a realistic source of funding for sanctuary care could be established. In the meantime, the chimps would stay in the labs.

Retirement remains a dream
NIH Director Francis Collins will make the final decision, around the end of March. These recommendations are just recommendations, albeit probably the most important set of recommendations since the U.S. started the chimp programs. NIH will decide whether they will make them real. NIH can pull most (but I wish all) of the chimps out of research, and that won’t cost a lot, but will the chimps be able to live out their lives as envisioned by the working group? We have to decide whether we will fight for the money to fund it all.

We all support the Great Ape Protection Act, as it has evolved over the five years it has been under Congressional consideration. As ape advocates, however, we might want to spend as much time and effort encouraging Congress to provide adequate funding for the chimp sanctuaries. We need to support NIH efforts as they prepare for the future. In the end, the federal research chimpanzees depend on us for their real retirement.

If you want to comment on the recommendations, go to the NIH Request for Information (which provides a link for electronic comment submission).

The future of U.S. research chimps

Today is the day for federal research chimps. The Council of Councils Working Group will present their recommendations for the National Institute's of Health implementation of the IOM principles and criteria on the use of chimpanzees in NIH-funded research. (See my blog post from last year, NIH sets up working group...) The presentation will take place from 2:00-4:00 p.m. EST at the regular Council of Councils meeting. The meeting is open to the public and can be attended in person or viewed via webcast:

I will try to attend the meeting, and intend to blog about the recommendations. If you watch the proceedings and want to make a point, please email me at, or add your comments to this post.

Keep in mind that the recommendations by the working group are pre-decisional and will be issued for public comment (60-day period) after which time the NIH Director will make a final decision on how NIH moves forward.

Monday, January 7, 2013

U.S. Senator Wyden blocked the Senate vote of the Great Ape Protection Act

Legislation to get chimpanzees out of federal research has been introduced in the Congress every year since 2008. (See GAPA history here.) Why didn't the Great Ape Protection Act get a highly anticipated vote in the Senate in 2012? It turns out that Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat from Oregon, put a "hold" on the bill, preventing its consideration. While it is highly unlikely that the bill would have become law even if the Senate approved it, since the House has never acted on the legislation (and it takes approval by both houses before a bill can go the President for his signature or veto), we should know who supports the retirement of federal chimpanzees from research, and who wants to keep the chimpanzees in laboratories.

(People are asking how they can contact Senator Wyden. Here is his contact info.)

This is Senator Wyden's statement, which he entered into the Congressional Record:

GREAT APE PROTECTION AND COST SAVING ACT -- (Senate - December 13, 2012)

[Page: S8037]
   Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, consistent with Senate standing orders and my policy of publishing in the CONGRESSIONAL RECORD a statement whenever I place a hold on legislation, I am announcing my intention to object to any unanimous consent request to proceed to and pass S. 810, the Great Ape Protection and Cost Saving Act.

 Oregon is home to one of the eight National Institutes of Health, NIH-supported National Primate Research Centers, and it is already subject to strong local and national oversight to ensure the highest quality and ethical care for animals. These Centers provide outstanding research and powerful research tools that are vital to our understanding of human health and disease and hold enormous potential for finding treatments for life-threatening disorders.
While ensuring the highest quality and ethical care for animals is of utmost importance, there is already significant oversight and regulation of these facilities.

 In addition to meeting the high standards required by NIH to obtain and retain Federal health research dollars, centers are also already responsible for meeting the lengthy, detailed and often-updated Federal requirements within the Animal Welfare Act. Facilities are subject to thorough, regular, and unannounced inspections by U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services and are subject to regulations from the Public Health Service, PHS, and Food and Drug Administration, FDA. Experiments must also be approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, IACUC, at the Institution where the scientist works before research can begin.

 While I support protecting animals from unethical and inhumane treatment, the NIH is in the process of reviewing and implementing related recommendations from the Institute of Medicine. At this stage, passing legislation would circumvent this ongoing process. For this reason, I object to the Senate taking up and passing S. 810.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

USDA finds Gorilla Foundation "noncompliance" in veterinary care of Ndume

Today I received a response to my Freedom of Information Act request for information about a complaint I filed for the welfare of Gorilla Foundation’s solitary male gorilla Ndume. (Ndume is Koko's non-companion who lives by himself at the Foundation, playing his silent role in the "Koko wants a baby" fantasy.) On August 13, I wrote to USDA, passing on concerns that I heard from former caregivers, that Ndume was not receiving adequate medical and dental care. On December 31, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service wrote me a letter that included documents reporting on the inspection that USDA veterinarian Jeffrey Lee conducted in response to my complaint.  

“USDA APHIS Animal Care inspectors conducted a visual inspection of Ndume, an approximately 32 year old male gorilla on September 6, 2012. The written program of veterinary care (pvc), medical records, the veterinary visits log, immunization and weight records, and laboratory results were reviewed at time of inspection. Animal Care inspectors were accompanied by a facility representative who was knowledgeable in the daily care of Ndume. The inspection was in response to a complaint stating that Ndume had not received any medical or dental attention since his arrival at the Foundation more than 20 years ago.”

The inspectors found several instances of non-compliance, as their inspection report explains.

The inspection report also specifically addressed other concerns I had relayed.

“The veterinary visits log presented shows that between 9-4-04 and 12-23-11 the veterinarian visited the facility an average of 7 times each year,” the inspector reported, while also noting that “the veterinarian last visited the facility in February of 2012.”

“During the inspection, Animal Care inspectors conducted a visual inspection of Ndume. He was approximately 15 feet away at the side of his outside enclosure. He appeared bright and alert and his hair coat appeared healthy. Ndume was observed eating carrots and did not show any signs of dental pain or discomfort while chewing. According to the animal keeper, he likes to close his eyes while chewing and this is normal behavior for him. The animal care staff provided us with pictures they have taken of Ndume's teeth over the last 3 or 4 years. Since Ndume only opens his mouth for the animal care staff, they take pictures of them and pass them on to the attending veterinarian for review. There was no indication in the medical records that Ndume has had any dental issues.”

I’m grateful that USDA APHIS took concerns about Ndume seriously. I’m also grateful that an inspector ended the inspection report with a promise: “We will continue to monitor the facility on a regular basis.”
For background on the Gorilla Foundation, see our blog page on Koko.