Today, every country in the world, with the possible exception of Gabon, has stopped using chimpanzees for biomedical research, yet in the United States the practice continues. While the country remains divided on the ethical implications and scientific utility of using chimpanzees as research subjects, there is a general national consensus that the costs to maintain chimpanzees for scientific research are extremely high. According to Congress, U.S. taxpayers pay millions of dollars each year to federal agencies just to maintain chimpanzees for research purposes (that number does not include the cost to develop, fund, and conduct scientific experiments on those animals). According to recent estimates, it will cost taxpayers about $1.85 billion dollars to maintain the government’s approximately 850 chimpanzees in research laboratories for the remainder of their lives. While that number may seem high, it is actually much lower than the number of chimpanzees that were maintained by the federal government for scientific research during the last part of the twentieth century. In 1999, U.S. taxpayers were paying to maintain approximately 1,500 chimpanzees in research laboratories. Many of those animals were considered “surplus,” meaning that they were not needed for breeding or for scientific research, yet the government was paying to warehouse them for lack of a better long-term care plan. In 2000, Congress passed the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance, and Protection Act which established a national sanctuary system to relocate all the “surplus” chimpanzees from research facilities to sanctuaries, which would provide lifetime care for those animals at a tremendous financial advantage to the U.S. taxpayers. Although the primary intent of the Act is to provide permanent sanctuaries for federally-owned or supported laboratory chimpanzees, it does allow retired entertainment animals, unwanted pets, and other chimpanzees to be accepted into the national sanctuary system, provided that there is available space for those animals, and pursuant to several conditions set forth in the statute.
Under the CHIMP Act, the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), must contract with a nonprofit organization to establish and run a sanctuary system that adheres to the minimum standards set forth in the CHIMP Act and in HHS regulations. That nonprofit organization is required to contribute 10 percent of the construction costs of the sanctuary facility and 25 percent of the maintenance costs for the chimpanzees housed therein. The Federal Government is responsible for providing the remainder of the funds. All sanctuaries within the national system are required to create a safe and species-appropriate physical environment for chimpanzees which includes open space to range with natural and artificial objects and structures that allow the animals to engage in species-typical behavior and activities. In addition to complying with the Federal Animal Welfare Act and in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s accompanying regulations, all sanctuaries must comply with the CHIMP Act’s operating rules and HHS’s minimum standards of care. The failure of a sanctuary to comply with the CHIMP Act or HHS’s regulations could result in sanctions or termination of the sanctuary’s contract with NCRR.
On September 30, 2002, Chimp Haven, Inc., a non-profit sanctuary in Keithville Louisiana was awarded a ten-year $30 million dollar NIH contract to serve as the first “Sanctuary Contractor” under the Chimp Act. To date, this is the only sanctuary facility within the national sanctuary system. The first CHIMP Act retirees, Rita and Teresa, arrived at the sanctuary on April 4, 2005. As of April 30, 2008, 127 government-owned or supported chimpanzees had been transferred to Chimp Haven. Under the CHIMP Act, those animals will never be bred, used for invasive scientific research, or exhibited to the public for compensation. Chimp Haven’s contract with NCRR expires in 2012, and it is unclear whether additional federal funds will be given to that sanctuary to provide ongoing support to the chimpanzees that are there and to create additional sanctuary space for the “surplus” chimpanzees that remain warehoused in laboratories. According to the federal government’s own estimates, there are still several hundred more “surplus” chimpanzees who, pursuant to the CHIMP Act, must be sent to federal sanctuaries. Yet, more than a decade since the passage of the CHIMP Act, those animals have still not been sent to sanctuaries.