New rules may end U.S. chimpanzee research

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Science  21 Aug 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6250, pp. 777
DOI: 10.1126/science.349.6250.777

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No researchers have applied for required federal permits to conduct invasive research on chimpanzees living in the United States. That suggests that all U.S. biomedical research on chimps has stopped—or is about to stop—and it's unclear whether the work will ever start again. Research on chimpanzees has been waning since 2013, when the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that it would phase out most government-funded chimp research and retire the majority of its research chimps to sanctuaries. The most recent blow came in June, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stated that all chimpanzees in the United States—including the more than 700 chimps used in research—would be classified as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Any labs that wished to continue invasive work on these animals would need to apply for an ESA permit, and the agency would grant permits only for work that enhances the survival of the species and benefits chimpanzees in the wild. By 17 August, however, not a single lab had applied for an ESA permit. And because the agency needs 90 days or more to review permit requests, no labs will have one by the time the rule goes into effect on 14 September. That means any ongoing projects must stop on that date. "This is the beginning of the end of invasive chimpanzee research," says Stephen Ross, director of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois, who pushed for the FWS rule. Less clear, however, is whether researchers conducting behavioral studies or other non-invasive research involving chimpanzees will need to obtain a permit.