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Agency Pushes to Retire Chimps from Research Projects

Tom Brakefield/Stockbyte(NEW YORK) -- Chimp Haven, outside Shreveport, La., welcomed seven research chimpanzees into their new home, a move that came on the heels of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) proposal that recommends all but 50 of the 360 chimpanzees currently being used in federally funded research be retired.

The recommendation would effectively end most biomedical research projects in the U.S. that involve chimpanzees.  The remaining colony of 50 chimps would primarily be used for behavioral research.

The NIH formed the committee following a 2011 report from the Institute of Medicine that found most biomedical research involving chimps was unnecessary.  The committee also suggests major cuts to grants for studying chimps in laboratories, as well as ceasing to breed them for research, and it sets a high bar for research involving the remaining chimps.

The recommendations were celebrated by animal rights groups that have made efforts to put an end to animal testing.

"We're certainly pleased that the United States has finally joined the rest of the world in ending the national disgrace that is the experimentation on chimpanzees," said Justin Goodman, director of laboratory investigations for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The recommendations are now in a procedural stage that allows for public comment during the next 60 days, at the end of which the NIH director will make an announcement on whether the government agency will implement the changes.

In the meantime, Chimp Haven, the only federally approved animal retirement sanctuary in the country, is preparing for the announcement, expected some time in March.  The haven is already caring for 109 retired, federally-owned chimps, and officials there are proceeding under the assumption the NIH will implement the recommendation.

"If there are more chimpanzees the government deems ready for retirement, we are thrilled to have the opportunity to be able to take them in and take care of them and give them the humane care that they deserve," Karen Allen, Chimp Haven's national advancement director, told ABC News.

The move to end most research projects using chimpanzees will have limited to no impact on biomedical research, according to the NIH.

At a press conference Wednesday, the group's co-chair, Dr. Daniel Geschwind, noted there are "...other animal models and other ways of doing the studies that might be more efficient, that wouldn't require the chimpanzees."

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