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Not Making the Move

Nearly four dozen chimpanzees won't be moving to retirement sanctuaries because they are too frail to do so, according to a US National Institutes of Health announcement.

The agency announced in 2015 that it would be retiring all its remaining research chimpanzees. That announcement followed a 2011 report from the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) that found invasive medical procedures inflict physical and mental harm on chimps and are only justified if there are no other alternatives. This led NIH to retire most of its chimps, leaving a handful in reserve for studies that met that IOM standard, but it then said in 2015 it would retire the remaining chimps.

Last year, Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said the agency was moving too slowly in its efforts to relocate its chimpanzees to sanctuaries. NIH announced a few months later that it had moved about 375 of its chimpanzees to Chimp Haven in Louisiana, though 180 still lived in research facilities. The agency said it was concerned about the health of some of its chimps, many of which are elderly, and that moving them might do more harm than good.

NIH has now said that 44 elderly chimpanzees will remain at a primate facility in New Mexico after an independent panel of veterinarians found that moving them would be risky. "Some of these animals are quite old and very frail. It was just going to be too unsafe to move all of them," NIH Deputy Director James Anderson tells ScienceInsider.

Stephen Ross, the chair of the Chimp Haven board, though, tells ScienceInsider that he is disappointed in the decision and the precedent it might set for other chimpanzees waiting to retire. "We believe that every chimpanzee should have the opportunity to live out the rest of their life in a sanctuary," he says.