There is no doubt that chimpanzees – despite their close relation to our own species – have suffered horrendously at the hands of humans. In spite of their great intelligence and sensitivity, these animals have long been the subject of invasive scientific experiments, and prone to being incarcerated in zoos, with little consideration for their well-being. In recent times, however, the tide is turning for this species.

In 2013, President Obama signed the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection Act into law, which helped facilitate the transfer of many research chimps to new sanctuary homes. Earlier this year, chimps were granted “endangered” status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), meaning that anyone who wishes to use a member of this cognitively sophisticated species for research or entertainment purposes must obtain a permit to demonstrate how such an action would enhance the species’ conservation. To date, no lab has applied for such a permit … perhaps because they know they cannot prove that carrying out experiments on a chimp will be in any way beneficial to the species as a whole. Meanwhile, groups such as The Nonhuman Rights Project are arguing that chimps should be considered nonhuman “persons,” with fundamental rights to bodily liberty.

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And now, in an amazing piece of good news, the National Institutes of Health (NHI) has announced its intention to end research experiments on chimps for good. This is amazing news considering that NIH was previously one of the largest facilities holding chimps for testing in the U.S. They had originally announced plans to retire the majority of its research chimps to sanctuaries back in 2013 but added that they would maintain a colony of 50 chimps in an “ethologically appropriate” environment, in case they would be required for research purposes in the future. Now, however, they have decided to release these chimps too!

Wayne Pacelle, director of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), welcomed NIH’s decision in a blog post, saying: “Moving these chimpanzees to sanctuary is not only the right thing to do, but it will also save taxpayer dollars due to the lower cost of care. We applaud NIH director Francis Collins for his foresight in taking this action.”

However, Pacelle cautioned that the fight is far from over: “Approximately 700 chimpanzees remain in laboratories with around 300 owned by the federal government. But we are working on travel plans for every one of them, starting with the group at Texas Biomedical. The HSUS stands ready to work with stakeholders, including the government, Chimp Haven and other sanctuaries, laboratories, the public, and other animal protection groups, to ensure all chimpanzees are retired to high-quality sanctuaries. It will take our collective action and resources to push this issue over the finish line, but it is the least these chimpanzees deserve after all they have been through. It’s rare to close out a category of animal use so emphatically. That’s exactly what’s happening here, and it’s thrilling.”

With this latest announcement by NIH, as well as the enforcement of stricter regulations around the use of chimps in all research laboratories, we have good reason to believe that the end is in sight for experiments on these incredibly smart, perceptive animals. Let’s hope that the momentum behind this decision will build, and ultimately lead to the end of cruel experiments against all animals.

Image source: Robert Moran/Flickr