Endangered species like chimpanzees is facing high risk of extinction. While chimpanzees in the wild are protected by law since 1990, the captives are not. According to ABC news today, the U.S. and Wildlife Service proposed that the captive chimps should be included in the endangered species list. This way, it could strictly limit their use in medical research. If this proposal gets approved, at least 1,884 chimps in the U.S. could enjoy the same protection as those in the wild.
Since 1923, chimpanzees were used in biomedical research, pioneered by Psycho-Biologist Robert Yerkers. Chimps were used because we have the same DNA make up. They are used in various experiments as animal models for human diseases because like humans, they can contract nearly all diseases like HIV, Hepatitis A, B, and C. They are also used in research like heartless transplant, alcoholism, aging, social and maternal deprivation, and oral contraceptives, as well as skull impact research.
The chimps that were used in research were caught in the wild. Medical research laboratory that supported chimpanzees has facilities to promote breeding programs. Many chimps are privately owned as pets, and then bought for research programs, but some were obtained after retirement from the entertainment industry.
Using the chimps as laboratory subjects are just one of the factors why these animals are critically endangered. Many employ apes for entertainment, such as in movies, advertisements, and circus. Commercial bush meat trade in Africa is one of the significant threats to the apes’ survival. The Republic of Congo alone garnered 1 billion dollars annually from bush meat trade. Other factors include loss of habitat, forest clearing, illegal logging and mining.
In January 2013, the NIH reconsidered the formulation of its policy on the use of chimpanzees in medical research. In March 2013, the NIH retired 200 chimps from the research. In Europe, no chimps were used in any biomedical research since 1999, and Spain banned these animal models. This was spearheaded by the nations such as Japan, New Zealand, and Australia. Now, whether the U.S. will follow suit remains to be seen.
Leading medical research agency, NIH, currently has 451 chimpanzees and if the proposal is finalized, according to NIH Director Dr Francis Collins, it could work. Dr Collins added that the research using chimps will comply with the conservation guidelines, and research could be allowed through “enhancement of survival” permits.
These are three principles of the 2001 IOM recommendations’ policy in a chimpanzee based research. In January, the NIH already recommended suspending biomedical researchers to use the apes. Co-Chair Daniel Geschwind stated that laboratories could use more efficient animal models, and ways should eliminate the need for chimpanzees.
These apes have ecologic, economic, and cultural values, which is why imminent protection is vital. In the ecological sense, all living creatures are supported by the interactions between organisms and ecosystems. The losses of biodiversity mean fewer stable ecosystems, weak natural cycles, and are more vulnerable to extreme events. If the chimps become extinct, the African habitats and species could be adversely affected. Economically, chimpanzees provide humans with the necessities of life, which is the foundation of our economy. They are pollen and seeds dispersers and without them, the fruits and flower growth could be impeded. We are all connected to nature and inspired by its beauty.
Chimpanzees are not monkeys but apes native to Africa. They are human’s closest relative, since they share 98 percent of our DNA. Before the turn of the century, the chimp population reached 2 million, and lived in 25 countries in Africa, but now, they are only seen in five countries, including Cameroon, Republic Democratic of Gabon, Congo, Central African Republic, and Republic of Congo. According to Jane Goodall Institute of Canada, without swift action, these great apes could be extinct in the next fifteen years.
Written by: Janet Grace Ortigas