A bill to let the National Institutes of Health keep supporting federal chimpanzees retired to the national sanctuary in northwest Louisiana has passed the U.S. Senate.
The Senate passed it by voice vote Wednesday, the same day it was approved by the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
It would let the secretary of Health and Human Services override a $30 million cap on federal money for Chimp Haven if that would cut the cost of maintaining chimpanzees owned by the National Institutes of Health, which decided this year to end most medical research on humans' closest relative.
"We're very close to spending the full $30 million," said Cathy Willis Spraetz, Chimp Haven's president and CEO. The sanctuary will probably hit the cap in mid-November, she said.
A study commissioned by The Humane Society of the United States has estimated annual costs of housing alone for research chimpanzees at $21,900 per animal. Chimp Haven spends about $13,000 per animal; NIH covers 75 percent of that — about $9,750 — for each one it owns.
The government owns 149 of the 163 chimpanzees at Chimp Haven, which foots the entire bill for 14 privately owned great apes.
Sixty more are expected by March from a lab owned by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, which did not renew its federal contract to study them. About 20 are scheduled during the first week in January, Spraetz said in a telephone interview.
"Moving these chimps to sanctuary care is not only the right thing to do, but doing so would also be more cost-efficient for NIH and for taxpayers," the bill's sponsor, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said in a release. "Now that the Senate has acted, I hope that the House of Representatives will quickly take up this important bill to ensure that NIH can use resources it already has on hand to ensure these chimps' well-being now and in the future."
The bill was co-sponsored by two Republicans — Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Richard Burr of North Carolina.
"This is fantastic news — one step closer to giving chimpanzees the life they deserve! Now on to the next steps," Kathleen Conlee, the humane society's vice president for animal research issues, wrote in an email after the Senate voted.
The bill would run through fiscal 2023.
"At least it gives us another 10 years to figure out our next steps," Spraetz said.