In their natural homes
in the wild, chimpanzees—humans' closest living genetic relatives, who are more
like us than they are like gorillas—are never separated from their families and
troops. Profoundly social beings, they spend every day together exploring, building
and using tools to solve problems, foraging, playing, grooming each other, and
making soft nests for sleeping each night. They care deeply for their families
and forge lifelong friendships. Chimpanzee mothers are loving and protective,
nursing their infants and sharing their nests with them for four to six years.
They have excellent memories and share cultural traditions with their children
and peers. They empathize with one another and console their friends when they
are upset. They help others, even at a personal cost to themselves. They
grieve when their loved ones pass away. They laugh when they're enjoying
themselves and grimace when they're afraid.
Sadly, in the early
1920s, experimenters in the U.S. began purchasing baby chimpanzees who had been
kidnapped from the forests of Central and West Africa. To capture baby
chimpanzees, hunters would kill the mother chimpanzees and any other adult
chimpanzees who tried to defend the babies. Often, whole families killed just
to obtain a few babies. The mortality rate among these babies during capture
and transport was high. Those who made it to U.S. laboratories suffered
terribly and died young. In 1923, the notorious American psychologist Robert
Yerkes—who dreamed of creating the ideal chimpanzee "servant of
science"—purchased a young bonobo and a chimpanzee he had hoped to
study into maturity. Both died within a year. Undeterred by the carnage and
suffering inherent in the chimpanzee trade, experimenters continued to fuel the
practice. In the early 1950s, the U.S. Air Force secured the capture of 65
young chimpanzees from Africa for use in military flight experiments at
Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, New Mexico. The descendents of these
chimpanzees were used in infectious disease experiments and in high-velocity
seat belt tests are now warehoused at the Alamogordo Primate
While many people
believe that this practice is a shameful relic of the past, it persists today
in the U.S. With a 2010 ban on great ape experimentation passed in the
European Union, the U.S. holds the dishonorable distinction of being the only nation in the
other than Gabon, that continues to conduct invasive experiments on chimpanzees.
Chimpanzee Experimentation in the
U.S. in the 21st Century
More than 900 chimpanzees still
languish in laboratories in the United States, with as many as 80 percent of
them simply warehoused because there is no longer a need to use them in
In these prisons, chimpanzees are
very often caged alone and deprived of the freedom, autonomy, and meaningful
social interaction that they need. There are no families, no companions, no
grooming, and no nests. There are only cold, hard steel bars and concrete—and
terror and loneliness that go on for so many years that most chimpanzees sink
into depression, eventually losing their minds. As a result of having to endure the terror and pain of
having their bodies routinely violated for experiments and the loneliness of
their tiny steel and concrete prison cells, many chimpanzees bear lifelong
emotional scars. Numerous studies have shown that even long after they are
retired from experimentation, many chimpanzees exhibit abnormal behavior indicative of depression and post-traumatic stress. They suffer from symptoms
such as social withdrawal, anxiety, and loss of appetite. They pull out their own
hair, bite themselves, and pace incessantly.
Most chimpanzees in U.S. laboratories have been given diseases, such as AIDS, hepatitis, cancer, infection with respiratory syncytial virus, malaria, and heart disease, intentionally--even though advances in technology make these procedures irrelevant and decades of experimentation show that chimpanzees' bodies do not react in the same way to these diseases as humans' do.
1995—after hundreds of chimpanzees were bred in laboratories in the 1980s and '90s
on the heels of the AIDS crisis—the National Institutes of Health (NIH) imposed a moratorium on the
breeding of chimpanzees after it was discovered that chimpanzees don't get sick
from HIV infection and do not contract
Four facilities funded by (NIH) continue to conduct experiments on
chimpanzees. These facilities include the Southwest National Primate Research Center,
the University of Louisiana at
Lafayette's New Iberia Research Center, the University of
Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center,
and the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. Experimenters at Yerkes subject chimpanzees to neuroimaging,
cognitive and motor testing, and invasive endocrine status tests in long-term
studies on aging. At Southwest, MD Anderson, and New Iberia, chimpanzees are subjected to multiple procedures, such as, among other things, liver biopsies and frequent
"knockdowns" in which they are traumatically shot with a tranquilizer dart gun. Recently
at MD Anderson, chimpanzees were also used in an absurd experiment looking at whether salt intake increased blood pressure,
something that has been well-established in humans for decades.
are also imprisoned in commercial laboratories. Pharmaceutical giant Merck recently revealed studies in which chimpanzees chronically infected with hepatitis C virus were subjected to invasive liver biopsies and blood work. A contract testing laboratory called BIOQUAL
(formerly known as SEMA) had been tormenting chimpanzees in NIH-funded experiments for hepatitis C and
other illnesses. After learning that BIOQUAL was separating young chimpanzees
from their mothers, locking them in individual cages, infecting them with
norovirus—which causes diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain—and then subjecting
them to months of painful biopsy procedures, PETA purchased stock in the
company to urge it to phase out the use of chimpanzees and called on NIH to cut funding
for the experiments. Just six months after PETA purchased the BIOQUAL stock, the company announced that it was ending all its chimpanzee experiments.
In 2011, a landmark report by the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine (IOM) that examined the scientific validity of experiments on
chimpanzees concluded that "most current biomedical research use of
chimpanzees is not necessary." In response, NIH announced that it was suspending
consideration of funding for any new experiments on chimpanzees. The agency
also stated that all currently funded experiments on chimpanzees would be
reevaluated, that funding for as many as 50 percent may be ended based on the
IOM's conclusions, and that any chimpanzees not currently being used in
experiments, including the chimpanzees in semi-retirement at the Alamogordo
Primate Facility, may not be enrolled in any studies during NIH's review.
Great Ape Protection and Cost
While the IOM report and NIH's review are steps
in the right direction, the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act (H.R.
which has been wending its way through Congress with tremendous bipartisan
support in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, is the only measure
that would permanently end the use of chimpanzees and all other great apes in
invasive experiments and retire more than 600 federally owned chimpanzees to
sanctuaries where they would, at last, be able to live out their days in peace.
You can join PETA's effort to liberate chimpanzees from laboratories here.
Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights? Read more.