Focus On: Chimps and Compassion

I hadn’t planned to write about chimpanzees today, until I received a packet in the mail about the chimps and biomedical research.  I did not realize that we were still doing research on chimps. In fact, according to the information I located yesterday,  only the United States and Gabon still conduct such research on the chimpanzees. This, despite the fact that an Institute of Medicine report showed that chimp research was unnecessary due to technological advances. The costs of maintaining the chimps far outweighs the benefits derived.  Not to mention the cost to the chimps, in the fear and suffering they have endured at our hands.

Fortunately the NIH has come to its senses and proposed new rules regarding research on the chimps. According to Mother Nature News,under these new rules, current research would continue but new projects would be restricted to studies that could not be conducted on humans, rats, monkeys and other animal species Other rules outline the treatment care and proper environment for the chimps The NIH is preparing to retire more of it’s 400 or so chimps, however, 50 chimps would be retained for research.

In addition, a bill was introduced into Congress in 2011 called the Great Ape Protection Act. If passed, this act would make all invasive procedures unlawful, as well as possessing ,housing, and maintaining chimps for research purposes or using federal funds (our tax dollars) for this purpose. Unfortunately, the bill was referred to committee, where 90% of them die due to inaction. Letters to our senators and representatives might induce someone to try again. Until we have a firm law in place, a future free from research for the chimps lies in jeopardy.The term apes includes the chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, gibbons and orangutans.

Chimpanzees are as close to being human as you can get and not be human.  I imagine that some of them, in some ways, may be more human, or at least more  humane, than we.  Chimpanzees share all but 1.4 per cent of our DNA.  They are our cousins in the animal world, and our closest living relatives.  It seems we do not choose to treat our relatives with love and compassion.

The information I received from http://www.savethechimps.org, tells the story of one chimp, named Bobby. Born in captivity, bred by the government for research, Bobby has been a participant in 8 different studies since being taken from his mother when he was only one year old. He has been anesthetized 250 times and endured many muscle and liver biopsies.  When not in use he was remanded to the “Dungeon” of the infamous Coulston Foundation, where he lived in a barren cement cage, alone, and without stimulation.  This was probably more distressing to Bobby than the research, as chimps are social animals who kiss, cuddle and console one another.  Bobby had no one. No one to help him deal with his fear and his anger, and so he turned on himself, biting his arms in frustration and despair. This story broke my heart.

When found, according to the save the chimps people, he was “’emaciated, hungry, and his arms bore the scars of self-mutilation.  He slept, sitting up, shivering, facing the wall of his cage.” Doesn’t that sound exactly as we would react if taken prisoner by an enemy and thrown in some dungeon-like prison?

Bobby was taken to a beautiful sanctuary in Florida  In this sanctuary there are 12 three to five acre islands of grass, palm trees, hills and climbing structures, plenty of room for Bobby and his friends to run, roam, or just rest in the sunshine.

But it will take time and therapy for Bobby to recover. He has been at the sanctuary for 8 years and still has the compulsion to hurt himself. It breaks the hearts of his caregivers to see his frustration and the depth of his suffering.

What I want to know is how  we feel we have the right to treat another living being in such a horrific manner. The Buddha teaches us to feel compassion for all sentient beings. Jesus teaches us to do unto others as we would want them to do unto us.  I don’t think any of us would want to treated as the chimps have been.

Once thriving in the millions in Africa,  the chimpanzee population is now estimated at 170,000 to 300,000.. As such they are classified as an endangered species.  Bobby, however, does not receive protection under this law as the apes hold “special distinction” which makes them eligible for research. What exactly  is special distinction? – being close enough to human to be used for research, but not to be afforded any protection or choice in the matter?

Bobby was bred in captivity for research purposes. I believe we are judged by the good we do for others. Let us not fail Bobby, or the other chimps who still remain in captivity.Let us call on our compassion and in doing so, retain our humanity.

You can read the report from the Councils of Councils Working Group at::

http://dpcpsi.nih.gov/council/working_group.aspx
(highlight, right click then highlight link in window pop-up)

You can comment on the recommendations/new rules at:

:http://grants.nih.gov/grants/rfi/rfi.cfm?ID=31

Comments Deadline: March 23, 2013 11:59:59 PM EDT

I summed up my stand on this matter to the NIH :

I believe the report was conducted in a thorough manner and as far as it goes I feel the recommendations are a step in the right direction.  But as a taxpayer and a person with compassion, I would like to see a total ban on Chimpanzees being used for research purposes.  I have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and as much as I would like to see a cure found, I would not want my cousin to spend his/her life being “researched” on my behalf. And chimps are after all,are  our cousins. No sentient being should be forced to do something against their will. We are almost the last nation on earth who use chimps in this way and I think we have to revisit the word humane,and see if we, as humans, as Americans, have lost the ability to act humanely.

If all goes as planned, there will still be 50 chimps waiting for their freedom They are counting on us.

Anyone who would like to contribute to chimp rescue and the expansion of the Florida Sanctuary, you can reach them at http://www.savethechimps.org .

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