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No room in NW for hundreds of retiring research chimps

Gerard Herbert
Associated Press

The National Institutes of Health on Wednesday announced it will retire most chimpanzees used in federally-supported medical research.

The institute director says the use of our closest animal relative for invasive studies can no longer be justified in most cases. That means more than 300 chimps are headed into retirement.

But neither of the two chimpanzee sanctuaries here in the Northwest is prepared to take new chimps.

The outreach director for Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest near CleElum reacted with delight to news of the phase-out.

"It's just such a huge step forward in terms of finally getting to the end of the use of chimpanzees in biomedical experimentation,” said Diana Goodrich.

Goodrich said it would be tricky for her sanctuary to accept new residents since chimpanzees are territorial.

"We could theoretically fit more chimps into the group, but the challenging part would be introducing them. In order for us to expand, we would have to kind of create a Plan B just in case things didn't work out,” she said.

Goodrich said her central Washington sanctuary doesn't intend in the near term to build the needed separate facility.

A spokesperson at a different sanctuary in Bend, Oregon with eight apes says it also lacks room for new residents. As a result, several much larger primate sanctuaries in the American South will probably be first in line.

Central Washington University also operates a chimpanzee facility, but it won't be accepting any of the retiring medical research chimps either.

"Unfortunately, we won't be able to contribute," said Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute director Mary Lee Jensvold. 

In fact, she says CWU has begun the process of transferring its two remaining chimps to a sanctuary in Canada because the university cannot afford renovations to its compound. 

Goodrich says to the best of her knowledge, no medical labs in the Northwest employ chimpanzees for research.

"There are a lot of smaller primates (used), macaque monkeys in particular," she said.

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.