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Primates Commonly used in Research
In The Wild

The use of chimpanzees in harmful experimentation, and their incarceration in cages and windowless labs, is the most profound statement of bigotry being voiced by the United States government today. These practices are defended vigorously by the biomedical establishment and are understood to symbolize what they perceive as their God-given right to dominate and exploit all other species with whom humans come into contact.

Chimpanzees Are Like Us in All the Ways That Matter

Philosophers and ethicists once believed that the gulf between humans andother animals was wide and clearly defined. Only humans made, modified, and used tools. Only humans possessed language. Only humans possessed culture. Only humans participated in systematic warfare. Only humans could exhibit altruistic behavior. Only humans pondered death and participated in religious ritual. Monkeys and apes, while they might be something like us in appearance and biology, were nothing like us inside, in heart and mind.

Today we know that those philosophers and ethicists were completely wrong.

Tool use in primates was first discovered in 1960 by Jane Goodall. Since that time we have learned that chimpanzees use an assortment of tools. Examples of meta-tool use, using a tool to modify or improve another tool, have been documented.

Almost 30 years ago, people began to search for ways to communicate with apes and monkeys. They wondered whether real language use was even possible for nonhumans. Today, many chimpanzees have been taught American Sign Language and have been engaging in dialogue with humans. From these conversations, it is now clear that their perceptions of the world are nearly identical to ours. They combine words to coin new expressions for novel situations and objects, which we fully understand. An example of this is a chimpanzee signing, “fruit drink” when inventing a name for Kool-Aid.

The discovery that chimpanzees use a gestural language in the wild has contributed to the understanding that culture is passed from generation to generation. Language and tool use are both used in unique ways by different chimpanzee groups. The knowledge of how to use a specific tool and specific gestures is learned and transmitted between generations.

It has been known for eons that animals will sometimes fight with each other, but systematic warfare was considered a uniquely human trait. It is now known that chimpanzees sometimes engage in long-term aggression with neighboring groups and will systematically murder each member of the “enemy” group. This is accomplished by a band of mostly males silently searching for isolated members of the rival community and killing them. Such campaigns can last months on end with frequently repeated excursions into the rivals’ territory.

Altruism has long been a bastion of human uniqueness, but the frequency of adoption of orphaned babies in chimpanzee society is significant. Chimpanzees are well known for their willingness to put themselves at risk to aid a friend. People observing chimpanzees in the wild have been given food by them.

Jane Goodall was the first to observe and record behavior suggestive of ritual among a group of chimpanzees. During an electrical storm, after running down a hill screaming and waving a branch, each chimpanzee would climb back up to repeat the performance. The group continued this until the electrical storm had passed. Had an anthropologist observed the same phenomena while studying a tribe of humans, she would have recognized it as a religious rite.

Today, U.S. policies at work in private and university biomedical laboratories ignore the evidence gathered during decades of nearly continual observation of these individuals. Today, chimpanzees are treated as if the past years of study mean nothing.

The United States government is morally adrift.

More Than 1500 Chimpanzees Are Imprisoned and Tortured in U.S. Labs

Best estimates for the number of chimpanzees held in U.S. laboratories suggest that the federal government has at least 264 individuals on hand. 250 of these are “owned” by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and are held at the Alamogordo Primate Facility at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. Fourteen others are being used in hepatitis research by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). CDC has refused to disclose the location of these animals. The Army is using an undetermined number for military research.

The Coulston Foundation, at its White Sands Research Center, also in Alamogordo, holds 315 chimpanzees. This makes Alamogordo, New Mexico, the chimpanzee capital of the world.

The Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research (SWFBR) in San Antonio, Texas, has about 250 chimpanzees. SWFBR is host to the Southwest Regional Primate Research Center, part of the federal government’s Regional Primate Research Center (RPRC) System. Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center, also a part of the NIH RPRC System, holds an estimated 190 chimpanzees. Yerkes is hosted by Emory University in Atlanta. It could be argued that the individuals held at these facilities are, essentially, publicly-“owned.”

The University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center, holds 149 chimpanzees at its facility at Bastrop, Texas.

An estimated 300 chimpanzees are held at the New Iberia Research Center in New Iberia, Louisiana, a facility owned and operated by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. This facility is one of the largest single holdings of primates in the world.

Bioqual, a private contract laboratory in Rockville, Maryland, has an estimated 63 chimpanzees. This facility is known to be conducting painful respiratory experiments on infant chimpanzees.

The Primate Foundation of Arizona, wholly funded by tax dollars, has 76 chimpanzees, but claims that they would never harm them nor allow harmful experiments to be performed on them. Still, the NIH supports these individuals and only time will tell whether the government will demand a reckoning.

The Use of Chimpanzees in Biomedical Research Must Stop Now

If the U.S. policy makers and U.S. citizens are willing to allow this situation to continue, it can hardly be argued that we are an enlightened nation or people. Throughout much of the rest of the Western world, countries are passing laws to correct the errors of past ignorance-based policies. The United Kingdom has banned all experiments on great apes (chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, and orangutans), and the European Union appears poised to do the same. New Zealand has passed laws that extend the most basic constitutional protections to these nonhuman animals.

Based on their affinity with us, and the logical conclusions that must be drawn from any rational explanation of why human deserve basic rights, there is no argument for continuing to allow chimpanzees to be tortured and imprisoned in American laboratories - other than old-time bigotry.

For additional information on the plight of chimpanzees in research and efforts to win their personhood please visit:

Stop Experimentation on and Exploitation of Chimpanzees

The Great Ape Project