“How smart does a chimp have to be before killing him constitutes murder?” – Carl Sagan
I have had an affinity and fascination for non-human primates from the time I was a little girl visiting the zoo, and a baby chimp came to the window of his enclosure where I was standing; he planted his lips on the glass near my face to deliver a big, sloppy kiss. He won my heart, of course. While back then, I never considered how these sociable creatures might be faring in their captive surroundings, today I know better. Thus, I don’t support zoos, circuses or any other form of entertainment that exploits animals.
Unfortunately, the exploitation goes much further. . .into the dark world of non-human primate use for experimentation. During my research, I read about countless facilities where negligence was routine, resulting in injury and death. I read about horrible invasive procedures that truly served no purpose other than to inflict anxiety, pain, terror, and ongoing psychological and physical harm to the victims, many of whom lost their lives in these torture chambers. Before I describe some of the conditions and treatment of these hapless primates, I’d like to share what I learned about them when they are in their natural habitats.
According to Save the Chimps sanctuary in Ft. Pierce, Florida, chimpanzees are considered our closest relation because we share all but 1.4% of our DNA. They are extremely social beings and capable of experiencing pleasure, joy, boredom, anger, grief, sorrow, fear, and depression much as we do. They comfort one another and express themselves by kissing and embracing. Sadly, they have become an endangered species whose population is rapidly decreasing.
Chimps, along with other primates (monkeys, orangutans) are often stolen from their mothers when young and sold for entertainment or to private owners. . .until they become too big, strong, old or unmanageable. Consequently, many end up living the remainder of their lives in isolation and neglect, if they are not fortunate enough to be turned over to a proper sanctuary. Others are sold to research facilities where a horrible fate awaits them. Chimps in captivity can live an average of fifty years – that’s fifty years of pain and suffering, if the invasive procedures don’t kill them sooner and release them from their hellish lives.
Chimpanzees who are languishing inside research labs, suffer emotional and physical trauma. Ironically, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation still utilizing them as research subjects, even though technology has replaced the need for animal testing. Yes, you read correctly. Our progressive country is still caught up in archaic and inhumane testing on live subjects.
Following are just a few documented incidents that have occurred in research facilities:
In 2008, thirty monkeys were cooked alive at Charles River Laboratories after a worker left the heater on. Two others were near death and had to be euthanised;
One year later, at a research lab (run by the same company), a monkey was scalded to death after it was sent through a washer while still in its cage;
Among ivy league universities across the country, notable violations have included primates being forced to go without water for more than 24 hours; baboons were burned and blistered when heating pads were accidentally substituted for warm water units; an investigator noticed that a primate was so thin that his pelvic bones showed and no one had bothered to notify the attending vet of his condition.
Though the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) offers some protection for the well being of primates in research, the USDA has not consistently followed through on requests for investigations into research animal deaths. It’s troubling to note that of the 26 registered U.S. importers of non-human primates (this group includes universities, zoos and private labs), one of its leading importers is a company that is also one of the biggest violators of the AWA.
In 2000, undercover video taken by an investigator with In Defense of Animals (IDA) at the Oregon National Primate Research Center showed monkeys in various stages of distress, crawling around in their own filth. Some had bitten off their own flesh; others were despondent or had gone crazy. Still others were shown strapped down and subjected to painful experiments (torture). (see www.idausa.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for a copy of the video). Check out www.vivisectioninfo.org.
In information obtained from the University of California San Diego, the USDA, and the website of UCSD researcher Stephen Lisberger, one can read about the 25-year history of invasive surgical procedures that involve the use of primates. In these sick procedures, their eyes are sliced open and wire coils placed inside. Screws are drilled into their skulls which later help bolt the victims by their heads to restraining chairs, where they are forced to sit for up to 8 hours daily. If they don’t perform, they are denied fluids. After this procedure, the animal cannot sit or stand for several days and must be fed food and drink by hand. These experiments can last for 3 years or longer for some of the victims.
Experiments such as these are costing taxpayers millions of dollars annually and only serve to cause extreme suffering to higher primates for very little scientific gain. Do you really want to see your money wasted on this cruelty, while it’s main purpose serves to subsidize the researchers who insist on utilizing archaic testing methods? I can think of more important and less cruel ways that I’d like to see my government spend my money.
Not long ago, a “Special Report” on chimp experimentation by McClatchy Newspapers investigative reporter Chris Adams was featured in papers and blogs nationwide. This three-part series, accompanied by video, pictures and graphics, exposes worldwide the mental and physical anguish that chimps are forced to endure in labs. You can view this report at http://www.mcclatchydc.com/chimps. This report, based on a lawsuit by IDA against National Institutes of Health (NIH), reviewed the medical records of chimps at the Alamogordo Primate Facility in NM. The shocking expose reveals a look behind the closed doors – and clearly shows why NIH fought to prevent the release of these records.
While many people might believe that animal testing is necessary, this belief is challenged by a growing number of physicians and scientists who see the negative consequences of using one species to provide information about another species – even one as close to humans as primates. Often, the result of animal experimentation is harmful to humans or misleading. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (www.pcrm.org), scientists note problems with translating data from animal experimentation to human conditions. Additionally, more sophisticated technology that doesn’t use animals, accompanied by growing concern about animals’ capacity for pain and suffering, is prompting many scientists to choose alternatives to animal testing.
Animal experimentation is archaic especially in light of all the technological advancements in the biological sciences. Far more advancement could be made in medicine if funding for animal testing was redirected to physicians for clinical research.
Thanks to the hard work of animal welfare groups and the media, the spotlight continues to be focused upon the blatant exploitation of chimps and other primates in research, entertainment, and the pet trade. Sanctuaries such as Save the Chimps offer permanent homes to rescued chimpanzees so that they can live out the remainder of their lives in peace. From living in cramped, filthy, windowless isolation and being subjected to abuse, painful and invasive procedures, neglect and suffering. . .these creatures can experience the joy of socializing among their group, feeling the grass beneath their feet, the sun on their backs, playtime and love at the hands of humans (for the first time in most of their lives). This takes place in a natural island habitat that was created specifically for them. To learn more about Save the Chimps and how you can help make life better for their residents or even adopt one, go to www.savethechimps.org. Their wish list includes, peanut butter, jelly, toddler toys, fleece blankets, powdered Gatorade, laundry soap, to name a few items. Check their site for a complete list. One year, I sent them a box of sunglasses when I learned that the chimps loved to wear them (you can picture the visual). Your support helps allow these sweet creatures to live out the rest of their lives in comfort – something they so well deserve after the hell that humans have put them through.
Every one of us can do something, keeping in mind that there is power in numbers. Don’t wait for the other person to take action. YOU are that other person. For starters, don’t send money to charities that support animal experimentation. If the college or university from which you graduated engages in animal testing, let them know why you will no longer donate to the alumni fund.
Boycott companies that conduct testing on animals.
Contact IDA, PCRM or the Doris Day Animal League (www.ddal.org) to lend your support to their campaigns and demonstrations targeting animal experimentation.
Extinction of chimpanzees has been predicted in as few as 10 years. We can all help prevent this. With your involvement, you can help change the fate of suffering primates, prevent further suffering, end the wasteful spending of your tax dollars on animal testing; and ensure that future generations can enjoy these beautiful creatures instead of just reading about them.
- Annoula Wylderich