Theyre housed one by one in small cages. Injected with strains of HIV and hepatitis, they scream and thrash in protest, only to be silenced by dart guns. Chimpanzees, our closest primate relatives, have been used in biomedical research for the past 15 to 20 years.
They’re housed one by one in small cages. Injected with strains of HIV and hepatitis, they scream and thrash in protest, only to be silenced by dart guns. Chimpanzees, our closest primate relatives, have been used in biomedical research for the past 15 to 20 years.
Chimps react to being caged by thrashing around, screaming, smearing feces, and even biting off their own fingers. Although by nature highly social animals, they are almost never housed more than one to a cage.
Life in the Lab
Many were taken as infants from their native Africa, and some are born in labs as part of breeding programs. A large number start their lives in the entertainment industry or as pets. Once chimps become adults (standing four feet tall and weighing up to 200 pounds) they become unmanageable, and are often given to biomedical research labs.
Chimpanzees can spend their entire lives in laboratories, undergoing countless "experiments," including repeated injections and organ biopsies. Chimps have been used for research on AIDS, hepatitis, yellow fever, polio, Alzheimer’s disease, car crashes, space exploration, toxins, and more.
So what happens to these chimps when they are too old or damaged to be used anymore? If they’re lucky, they go to a sanctuary like the one founded by Quebec’s Fauna Foundation.
Rescued from Research
In 1990, in an attempt to escape city life, Dr. Richard Allen and Gloria Grow bought a 200-acre farm outside Montreal and had a small number of farm animals. Dr. Allen, a veterinarian, was asked to help in the rescue of a horse. The animal had spent its life carting tourists around Montreal in a carriage and had one day acted violently. No one was injured, but the horse was going to be sent to a meat packaging plant. Dr. Allen brought the horse home.
Over the years the farm expanded, and more formerly neglected and abused animals were brought to live there. In 1997, after visiting the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute in Ellensburg, Washington, Allen and Grow began to build a sanctuary for 15 retired biomedical lab chimpanzees. The chimps arrived that fall. Some of them had never seen the outside of the laboratory. It was the first sanctuary in the world to house HIV-infected chimps.
“It was extremely controversial in the beginning,” recalls Grow. “There was, and in some cases still is, a phobia about the virus.” In the small farming community, a petition was initiated in an attempt to shut down the sanctuary. Helicopters flew overhead taking aerial photographs. Says Grow, “There was real fear and stigma. There is help for people affected with the virus, but not animals.”
When the chimps arrived, most were thin and some had bald patches from pulling out their hair. They were pale from lack of sunlight. Psychologists and animal behaviourists were brought in to review the animals. “What they were suffering from, we were told, was post-traumatic stress disorder,” says Grow. While medications are available, Allen and Grow prefer natural methods when possible. They looked into homeopathy with the help of Dr. Daniel Crisafi, a Montreal-based naturopathic physician.
While the Foundation’s chimpanzees will never live as they were meant to, mentally or physically, they are doing much better. Miraculously, none of the chimps now has the HIV virus. Some have become close companions, while a few prefer to spend quiet time alone. Like anyone who has suffered years of abuse, they have good days and bad. Sadly, the Foundation lost two of its chimps, Pablo and Annie, in 2001 and 2002 respectively. Autopsies showed extensive damage to their internal organs.
Compassion in Action
Allen and Grow want ethical research. Says Grow, “Some people are shocked to know that we are in contact with laboratories and the people who work there.” She points out that it’s easier to work with them than against them. What she wants most is change.
If we are going to continue to use animals in biomedical research, then we need improved conditions and treatment, and we owe it to them to provide a comfortable retirement. Unfortunately, very few facilities such as the Fauna Foundation’s sanctuary exist in the world.
With awareness and education, more facilities can be built, and chimpanzees and other research animals can live out the rest of their lives in peace. For more information on the Fauna Foundation, visit their website at www.faunafoundation.org.