Government Scientists Retire Research Chimps; So Long, Labs!

First Posted: Jan 23, 2013 08:44 AM EST

Chimps are getting a break. Government scientists have agreed that all but 50 of the apes currently being used for federally funded researched should be retired from labs and sent to a sanctuary. The proposal, which came from a National Institutes of Health committee, also mentioned that the chimps should have plenty of room to play and climb. Already, nine chimpanzees have arrived at their new home at Chimp Haven from a south Louisiana lab. Seven more are expected to arrive on Thursday, and 95 others will join them over the coming months.

Because of their close relation to humans, chimps have been used for scientific research for decades. The great apes have been researched as exhibiting human-like behavior, such as the ability to judge "fairness" in a recent study. This new decision to retire the chimpanzees shows a major leap forward in the way society views these apes. The NIH proposal also calls for major cuts in grants to study chimps in laboratories and a no return to breeding them for research. This means that in the future, there will be even less chimpanzees in the lab.

The sanctuary that the chimps will now call home spans 200 acres of a Caddo Parish park in Keithville. It will include year-round outdoor access for the animals, and provide a variety of natural surfaces such as grass, dirt, and mulch. In addition, the sanctuary provides plenty of climbing space to let all members of large troupes travel, feed, and rest above the ground.

This new living space doesn't come cheap, though. A cap of $30 million has been placed on the construction and care of Chimp Haven's retirees. With the current cap, NIH would be unable to contribute 75 percent of the $13,000 annual cost of caring for each of the chimps. Currently, the Humane Society is urging Congress to move money now spent on research contracts to support Chimp Haven, according to CBS News.

Money problems aside, though, these chimps are getting a new place to stay, and a new future outside of a lab.

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