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National Research Council (US) Committee on Long-Term Care of Chimpanzees. Chimpanzees in Research: Strategies for Their Ethical Care, Management, and Use. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1997.

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Chimpanzees in Research: Strategies for Their Ethical Care, Management, and Use.

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Chimpanzees in biomedical and behavioral research constitute a national resource that has been valuable in addressing national health needs. Facilities that house chimpanzees owned and supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have successfully met the research requirements of the scientific community. The captive chimpanzee population in the United States has grown substantially, particularly over the last decade. That growth is due primarily to the success of the NIH-sponsored Chimpanzee Breeding and Research Program, which achieved the birth numbers thought necessary to meet the projected needs of biomedical research. However, the expected level of use of the chimpanzee model in biomedical research did not materialize, and that has created a complex problem that threatens both the availability of chimpanzees for research in the future and the infrastructure required to ensure the well-being of captive chimpanzees used in biomedical research.

Because the present system is fragmented, it is impossible to formulate an accurate overview of the size and nature of the chimpanzee population. But, if the chimpanzee is to continue to be used in biomedical research responsibly, effectively, and cost-effectively, we must be able to oversee, track, and coordinate the maintenance and use of chimpanzees and to control the size of the population. To assess the long-range situation and to develop, implement, and monitor the application of policies for the proper use and care of chimpanzees, an authoritative, centralized oversight structure is imperative. Once it is in place, it will be possible to refine and implement this report's recommendations, which are summarized here.

The existing chimpanzee population is more than adequate to meet research needs for at least five years. Moreover, increasing the number of chimpanzees maintained in the major NIH-supported biomedical chimpanzee facilities would risk eroding the quality of their care as a result of overcrowding, pressure on limited resources, and contamination of breeding and other research-naive animals by those used in infectious-disease studies. Therefore,

(1) A breeding moratorium should be imposed for at least five years (1997-2001).

Such a moratorium, necessary to prevent additional strain on the system, will not itself create more housing space or improve the housing of many animals now in the research population, but it will reduce operating costs by about 15% from present costs by year five. Decisions about acceptable means of population maintenance and control in a setting of scarce resources are inordinately complex and involve both scientific and ethical questions; there are no simple solutions.

The committee has been made aware that both the NIH National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) and the Interagency Animal Models Committee have orally communicated to breeding colony managers and researchers that euthanasia as a means of population control is not desirable. The committee agrees with those groups and with members of the public with whom these issues were discussed and recommends that this position be formalized and communicated to all government-supported chimpanzee managers and researchers. Therefore,

(2) Euthanasia should not be endorsed as a general means of population control.

The committee fully recognizes the implications of that recommendation in regard to lifetime funding for all animals and the need for additional space and facilities for an aging population, the third fundamental issue addressed in this report. There are about 1,500 US biomedical chimpanzees. The committee examined in detail the trend of reduced use of the chimpanzee model in biomedical research. Chapter 2 discusses this topic by first reviewing the past use of chimpanzees and their major contributions to the understanding and alleviation of human health problems. New developments in biomedical research and threats to society from emerging and re-emerging infectious microorganisms are expected to contribute to future demands for chimpanzees. However, several barriers prevent or reduce the use of the chimpanzee model. One expressed by scientists is that the chimpanzee is not now a good research model, for three reasons: the availability of government-supported chimpanzees is not well advertised, use fees for nongovernment animals are often over $50,000 per animal, and government protocol-review procedures inhibit the use of chimpanzees in NIH-sponsored research and by commercial institutions. Because the importance of chimpanzees in biomedical science has been amply demonstrated—for example, in the development of vaccines for hepatitis B—and equally important uses in the future are likely,

(3) A core population of approximately 1,000 chimpanzees should be assured lifetime support by the federal government, and ownership of these animals should be transferred to the government.

Government ownership of animals used in federally-funded studies will be critical for ensuring the long-term care of this important biomedical resource. The scientists' concerns will be addressed by reducing the cost of using chimpanzees (through elimination of use fees), thereby increasing the opportunity to improve understanding of the chimpanzee's biology and behavior, which is essential for its proper characterization as a research model. Government ownership, as detailed in chapter 5, should be carefully designed to sustain a captive population, provide animals for research, and protect human health through the provision of lifetime care, in existing biomedical chimpanzee facilities, of animals thought to constitute a human health hazard.

To facilitate developing its recommendations, the committee divided the chimpanzee population into five components: the present breeding population supported by NCRR, animals now on research protocols, animals available for research (both naive and those used in prior studies), animals used in previous government-sponsored research that are no longer needed for research and pose a risk to human health, and animals that are no longer needed for research or breeding and pose no risk to human health. Each component presents unique opportunities and problems and is more fully addressed in chapter 2.

Not all of the initial core population recommended for government ownership is likely to be needed, and options should be sought for nongovernment support of animals that are no longer needed for research and breeding and are not thought to constitute a human health hazard. Cost savings and more effective use of the current overcrowded facilities could be achieved by transferring such animals to appropriate public (nongovernment) sanctuaries. That would save money by reducing the number of animals for which long-term maintenance is required in research facilities and reducing the requirements for expansion of current facilities. Properly designed, such sanctuary facilities should provide lower-cost maintenance of the animals than is possible in existing research facilities. Therefore,

(4)The concept of sanctuaries capable of providing for the long-term care and well-being of chimpanzees that are no longer needed for research and breeding should become an integral component of the strategic plan to achieve the best and most cost-effective solutions to the current dilemma.

The most obvious deficiency in present population management is the absence of a central coordinating program responsible for balancing the need to advance scientific knowledge relevant to human health with the short-term and long-term needs of the chimpanzee population. Rather, there is a system driven by fragmented approaches that primarily react to immediate needs. The committee believes that many of the scientific and ethical problems addressed in this report are a consequence of the general lack of coordination. Therefore,

(5)A single multiagency organizational unit, the Chimpanzee Management Program (ChiMP), should be established within the office of the director of the National Institutes of Health, or as described below, and be given direct administrative and fiscal responsibility for government-owned animals that are considered necessary to meet current and long-term national needs.

ChiMP should be an autonomous body with sole responsibility and authority for coordinating the management and use of a US-government-owned population of chimpanzees for use in biomedical research by any government agency or department, irrespective of whether an investigator is employed by the government, receives research funding from a government source, or represents private enterprise. The committee believes that ChiMP, housed within the office of the Director of NIH (or a suitable alternative that has the autonomy, infrastructure, and expertise to manage the program), should serve as the leader of a consortium of government agencies that would include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Defense, all of which need chimpanzees to fulfill their missions. Substantial cost savings will be achieved if participating agencies pool existing resources allocated to chimpanzees and jointly develop procurement plans for the long-term care of government-owned animals. Because the animals constitute a national resource that benefits all of society, they should not have to compete for funds for their long-term care with other entities that need resources that are already overextended for current and future biomedical research. The committee urges that the ChiMP office encourage and assist in efforts now being led by private initiatives and animal-protection organizations to develop sanctuary facilities for chimpanzees that are no longer needed for research or breeding.

The committee views development of a centralized management structure as the only rational vehicle for implementing its recommendations. It also recognizes that the breadth of expertise needed for oversight of the chimpanzee resource is not likely to exist in a single office or agency. Therefore,

(6)An appropriate advisory council of nongovernment experts should be created as a chartered committee for the purpose of establishing policies of ChiMP and for monitoring the short-term and long-term implications of the foregoing recommendations, including implications for research use, breeding-colony size, demography, genetics, and long-term care.

The need for combined centralization of management and oversight is so obvious that the last two recommendations of the Committee on the Long-Term Care of Chimpanzees represent platforms for carrying out its core recommendations. If the committee's recommendations are followed, biomedical and behavioral research using chimpanzees can continue to thrive in a productive, ethically responsible, and cost-effective manner. If, however, the current lack of long-range planning and coordination continues, the combination of excess captive chimpanzees in the US biomedical population and lack of facilities and resources to care for increasing numbers adequately will soon become an insurmountable problem of enormous complexity, cost, and ethical concern. Lacking the ability to relocate their animals to acceptable alternative facilities, colony managers will be forced to reduce population numbers through euthanasia. The likelihood of this “train wreck” scenario must be considered in light of the broader issues surrounding the well-being of chimpanzees. In the final analysis, it is difficult to conceive that our society would accept a system that deteriorated to the point where euthanasia of chimpanzees became the best or only humane option.

Copyright © 1997, National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK109751


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