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Chimpanzees in laboratories may soon be classified as endangered species if the recommendation by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is implemented. The current status of chimpanzees in the wild is endangered but it is only threatened for captive ones. This difference in classification, the only split status ever, does little to protect the thousands of chimpanzees under private control, including those in research facilities. Upon urging from animal rights organizations, USF&W has put forward the proposal that ALL chimpanzees be classified as endangered. They determined that there is no provision in the Endangered Species Act for wild and captive animals to be assigned to different status groups.

Unfortunately, a number of countries still keep and experiment on monkeys, but the United States stands alone among developed countries regarding apes. The U.S. has continued to subject apes to a variety of experiments, while such research has been banned for years in Europe. This proposal, if adopted, will mark yet another step of progress towards the end of subjecting primates to research experiments. Earlier this year, the NIH took a step closer to releasing to sanctuary most of the chimpanzees in its research colony. In addition, the recent news that Harvard is closing its primate center was another welcome development in the effort to end primate exploitation and abuse in laboratories.

The tide is clearly changing. Based on a recent US poll, support for vivisection in general is dropping, particularly among younger people. This recent trend towards reducing and ultimately eliminating primate research is just another indicator that this is going in the right direction. One of the interesting things here is that, although much of the concern regarding primates is for ethical reasons, it has also been shown that primate research in many areas just doesn’t work. Chimpanzees do not function as a model for human physiology as well as some scientists hoped. And what about that? If our closest genetic relatives are not reliable predictors of reactions and responses to various experimental manipulations, what makes us think that species even more distantly related to us will? It is becoming more and more clear that, although there are many similarities across the animal kingdom, response in one species to a certain stimulus cannot accurately predict the response to that same stimulus in a different species. Even mice, the standby for scientists, are not reliable as models. Clinical human studies and in vitro testing using human tissues are much safer and reliable methodologies.

As primates become obsolete in labs as a test animal, both because of ethical concerns and because the science just doesn’t support it, the next logical step becomes clear. If chimpanzees and other primates should not be used because they experience pain and suffering, what about the dogs, cats, mice, rabbits, and other species subjected to invasive, painful experiments? Do they not have the same ability to feel pain? Do they not have the same neurological and emotional make-up that causes them to suffer as well? Of course they do. And that fact will become more evident as the line between “us” and “them” becomes more blurred. Once we fully recognize that the dividing line between human animals and nonhuman animals is an arbitrary one put in place by humans, it will become increasingly more difficult to justify vivisection at all, no matter what the species. Hopefully this will signal the beginning of the end of experiments on ALL animal species in research settings.

Additional sources:
Dr. Ray Greek
NPR
St. Louis Today
photo: Vera Kratochvil via publicdomainpictures.net

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