The institution called chimpanzee research to which Robert Yerkes (yes, namesake of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Atlanta, GA) gave a foothold in America in the 1920s, has always been a house of cards: an institution that is insubstantial, shaky and in constant risk of collapse. Researchers have known this. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has known this. Yet the price of playing the game for decades has been paid for by suffering and dying chimpanzees.
In the last 20 years - in great part because of the work of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS) and others - we watched this inhumane institution slowly, steadily and finally collapse. As each stone in the wall it erected between justice and the chimpanzees crumbled, we celebrated. We celebrated with no less joy than had it been an end to the suffering of our own bodies and souls. With each fracture, we took in a little more breath of that long awaited sigh of relief.
This past week, NIH announced it reconsidered its original decision to retire “all but 50” of its chimpanzees, and saw no reason to hold any in reserve “for possible future use;” and it would stop funding private labs’ chimpanzees. This announcement was a loud, resounding final collapse ... the nail in the coffin of an institution upheld far too long by ‘status quo’ thinking, greed and the suffering of chimpanzees. And so, thank you Dr. Collins.
I have been spinning from this news of such scientific and moral importance. To steady myself, I have been revisiting the stepping stones that got us here. I want to share a small sample I feel were particularly potent in curing the delusional yet seemingly impenetrable reasons chimpanzees have remained in research for nearly 100 years. From around 1923 to 2016 according to my calculator is 93 years. I could not highlight a small sample of the countless scientific advances we have made in that same time … that same span of civilization in which we continued to drag the bodies of animals through soiled laboratory corridors.
And now a statement from the NIH Director that says essentially NIH is out of the business of chimpanzee research. So, I sit stunned, happy and proud of all the animal protection community and especially NEAVS accomplished. We defeated the faulty science and won over intelligent thinkers. The chimpanzees won over the hearts of the public. Throughout 20-years of focused work, we were not deterred by the irrational objections of those from whom a source of profit and power was being taken. No one wants money and power taken from them unless, within their hearts, compassion and justice overrides self-interest and greed.
To those who see the scientific wisdom and the ethical rightness of ending the use of the first non-human species in research, we invite you to join us. We welcome collaboration with those for whom progress and humanness is also one of their goals. Join us in our pursuit of better and more humane science. Join us because at the end of the day researchers whose hearts are pure in pursuit of less suffering and a better world, share our vision. And perhaps now, as chimpanzees - the genetic ambassadors between humans and all other animals - have paved the way, we can begin that slippery slope of compassion for all animals in labs, and find ourselves on a more rapid ascent into better and humane science.
Finally, I dedicate this post to Chim, Panzee, Bill, Dwina, Pan and Wendy - chimpanzee children taken from their mothers in Africa and purchased by Yerkes to establish chimpanzee research in the U.S. Chim and Panzee died within a year of their arrival. Pan and Wendy were purchased from a sailor at Boston Harbor – NEAVS’ hometown. To them we send our tear-drenched apologies for the harm done to you, your family and generations of your kind. And to the chimpanzees of Fauna: Billy, Tom, Pepper, Jeannie, Regis, Rachel, and the others - we thank you for helping us win the hearts of millions who stood behind our efforts to end the use of chimpanzees in research. Your stories, your unique self, and the pain you suffered, brought the truth of the plight of ALL the others home. We did it all because of and for you and the hundreds of others rescued who had the good fortune of being safe while we worked to help those who were not.