“Chimp Haven Is Home”: A Victory?

“Chimp Haven Is Home”: A Victory?

Congress recently passed the Chimp Haven Is Home Act. Some advocacy groups urged Bush to sign the bill, and now claim “victory” because the bill has been signed. We value optimism in this field; nevertheless, when the word “victory” appears, read carefully.

In a society that accords animals no legal rights and ensures they are routinely dominated, controlled, used up and discarded, true animal-rights victories are few and far between. The Chimp Haven Is Home Act is not one of them.

This provision entails modifying the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance, and Protection Act (the CHIMP Act of 2000) so that it does not authorize National Institutes of Health labs to recall chimpanzees from holding sites that receive government funding.

Although the amendment sounds like an improved situation for the apes used up and released by the U.S. government, it’s not all rosy. First, the amendment may keep apes in labs longer, because officials won’t want to move apes to a storage system that renders them off-limits to research. Under the amendment, moreover, chimpanzees still “may be used for noninvasive behavioral studies” — sometimes far from benign, and the kind of concept that’s kept primates locked inside labs at Ohio State University and other sites for decades.

The language controlling researcher access in the CHIMP Act has been debated since the bill was initially proposed, and it’s been modified before. The amended law does not grant any rights to nonhuman apes; and — given its legislative history, which prioritized government cost-savings and never questioned the use of apes in experiments — it could yet be modified or circumvented, for example, in a real or perceived health emergency. Notably, the only apes this law removes from researcher access are those who are deemed “surplus chimpanzees.”

The amendment fortifies the bizarre reality that the National Institutes of Health, and other federal agencies with research protocols using nonhuman primates, are subsidized by charity donations. Currently, Chimp Haven is the sole federal storage site — let’s not use Congress’s euphemism; from an animal-rights viewpoint this is no sanctuary — and it must fundraise to match 25 percent ($1 for each $3 of federal funds) of the government’s money it receives each year.

Chimp Haven believes that this amendment will make fundraising easier.

Charity-style fundraising to offset what the U.S. government pays to keep nonhuman apes in captivity through the end of their lives helps the national system of ape research stay afloat, when it should be abolished. Since the day the CHIMP Act of 2000 was first proposed, we at Friends of Animals said we’ll never, ever promote a scheme wherein an institution serves the government agencies that used these chimpanzees so those who still promote primate research can whitewash what they do.

The CHIMP Act and its latest amendment accept and perpetuate both invasive and purportedly non-invasive research on nonhuman great apes even after other countries (such as Britain and New Zealand) have found such use morally objectionable. In light of this, we do not consider apes at Chimp Haven to be home in any sense of the word.

These apes have been deprived of free lives, exploited for years, and are now prevented from living the remainder of their lives in privacy. They are being used once again, in cheery advertisements that may make human beings feel good about ourselves, but fail to criticize research on nonhuman apes and any entity that enables this grotesque treatment to go on.

The activists of Friends of Animals urge the public to support true sanctuaries, and to call, with a unified and unequivocal voice, for the abolition of vivisection on apes and vivisection in general.

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