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NIH agrees to proposal releasing chimpanzees used for research

A proposal passed on Tuesday will lead to the retirement of a majority of the remaining chimpanzees used for research in the U.S., a major move for research facilities around the country.

The proposal, which was drafted by a committee at the National Institutes for Health (NIH), will rescue over 300 chimps from research labs and release them into a Louisiana sanctuary with trees and room to play.

This is not the first attempt to remove chimpanzees from research labs. Over the past few years, laboratories have started to move away from using chimps as research subjects. Many have ethical concerns related to carrying out research on chimps, as they are one of the closest animal relatives to humans. In addition, many new technologies have made chimp research unnecessary in most cases.

The NIH proposal would relocate 300 of the 350 chimps currently being used for research purposes in the U.S. Scientists working with the remaining 50 chimpanzees will still be able to use the animals for federally funded research, but will have new guidelines.

The NIH proposal insists that the 50 chimps be kept in spacious areas, among other rules. These include cutting funding for studying chimpanzees in research settings and not breeding the animals for research purposes.

Since Tuesday, the NIH Council of Councils Working Group proposal has entered a 60 day period where the public can comment on it. After this time, the proposal will go to the agency’s director.

If the proposal is accepted, the 300 chimps will move to Chimp Haven, which was set up in 2005. Chimp Haven is a sanctuary for chimpanzees who were used from research purposes, but were no longer needed. The reserve is located in northwest Louisiana on 200-acres of rural land.

In late 2012, before the current proposal was drafted, an agreement was made to begin introducing new chimps to Chimp Haven. On Tuesday, nine chimpanzees were transferred to the reserve from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s New Iberia Research Center. According to Chimp Haven officials, seven more animals will be brought to Chimp Haven on Thursday with 95 more arriving in the next few months.

The NIH proposal has been met with rave reviews from activists in animal rights groups.

“At last, our federal government understands: A chimpanzee should no more live in a laboratory than a human should live in a phone booth,” the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said in a statement released late Tuesday.

Many of the chimps currently at or moving to Chimp Haven spent decades in research labs. Most were likely held in small cages. Now, the chimpanzees will be allowed to interact with many of their kind while moving around in the forest and enjoying toys and jungle gyms.