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Retired lab chimps deserve better

The recommendations from the Institute of Medicine to largely end chimpanzee research are a huge step forward ("End chimp research, panel urges," Dec. 16). However, these recommendations do not have any teeth as they are not enforceable. It is necessary for Congress to act (which is asking a lot from the current Congress) and bring the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act out of committee and on to the floor for a vote.

Unfortunately, the 937 chimpanzees in laboratories, 436 of whom are owned by the federal government, will continue to languish in totally unacceptable conditions unless the act is passed. These chimpanzees have served our country and science. Now they are forced to remain in prison, in social isolation in cages less than 5 feet by 5 feet by 5 feet. Many of these chimpanzees cannot even see another chimp because of the construction of their jails. We would never keep a human being in such horrible conditions. Most of us would shudder to see our pets in such conditions. These animals deserve social contact, space to move around and exercise, and fresh air.

There is currently only one sanctuary for chimpanzees working in partnership with the government. That sanctuary, Chimp Haven in Louisiana, has the capability to house 300 chimpanzees. There are currently nearly 150 chimps in residence there. Where will the remaining chimpanzees go? The Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act requires sanctuaries for retired laboratory chimpanzees. The act provides for funds for sanctuary. We as a society must stop treating chimpanzees worse than we treat out worst criminals.

I urge readers of The Sun to read the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act, and if they agree with it, to contact their senators and congressional representative. They may also wish to visit the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore and see how chimpanzees who are well-housed and mentally and socially stimulated behave.

Every chimpanzee deserves the chance to live under the least restraints possible. Laboratory chimpanzees are not suitable to return to the wild. Sanctuaries can provide them with the kind of retirement that they deserve. Without the Great Ape Protection Act, the owners of private laboratories and federal government and military labs might be tempted to euthanize chimps as a cost-saving mechanism. Euthanizing chimpanzees is specifically prohibited under the act.

Barbara L. Pilert, Baltimore

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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