Passion and Arden, No Longer Used in Research, Begin a New Life in U.S. Sanctuary
Tired, nervous, and fearful, a small chimpanzee with a freckled, light-colored face, arrived at Chimp Haven sanctuary on February 21, 2013, following a four-hour journey to Keithville, in northwest Louisiana. Twenty-two-year-old Passion had been released from life in captivity at the New Iberia Research Center in the southern part of Louisiana, where she had been raised by humans and subjected to medical research. Of her three offspring, only five-year-old Arden survives.
“At first she would poke her eye due to stress,” says Amy Fultz, director of behavior, research, and education for Chimp Haven. “We rarely see that now unless there’s strife in the group.” Passion now lives with her daughter in a 25-member group on a five-acre range within the site, which, in 2013, started to receive 110 chimps released from New Iberia.
Passion and Arden’s release to the 200-acre sanctuary came several months before a landmark decision by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) in June 2013 to retire the majority of chimpanzees from NIH-funded biomedical labs. The NIH will retire all but 50 federally owned chimpanzees.
While more than 300 chimpanzees remained in federal laboratories as this report went to press, Passion and Arden were settling into a new home that conforms to standards of care established by the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA) and is accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.
The NIH decision came following a 2011 Institute of Medicine study that found that most experimentation on chimps was unnecessary except as a last resort where essential research on human conditions is not possible—even using advanced tissue culture or computer-based simulations—or is unethical.
Many organizations worked tirelessly to bring about the NIH decision, including The Humane Society of the United States, Animal Protection of New Mexico, Chimp Haven, New England Anti-Vivisection Society, and NAPSA.
The increased protections brought about by the NIH decision could be augmented significantly if the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service were to reclassify U.S. captive chimps as “endangered” as opposed to the current, lesser designation of “threatened.”
This proposed change to the Endangered Species Act, which was publicly debated in 2013, would curb the use of chimpanzees for invasive research, breeding, and entertainment purposes. Although the International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified chimpanzees as “endangered” since the 1970s, the United States has deviated from this standard.
“For Passion and Arden, who now enjoy traveling throughout their forested habitat and who have learned to climb trees and eat the natural vegetation, the impact of the NIH decision is clear,” says Chimp Haven President and CEO Cathy Willis Spraetz.
“The space and choice they’re afforded in their daily lives— there are no words to describe how powerful that is to see,” says Laura Bonar of Animal Protection of New Mexico, one of the groups that long advocated to end medical research on chimpanzees. “For me, as someone who is really troubled by the ways humans use and abuse animals, seeing us use our intelligence to help others instead of harm them is really life-affirming.”