Chimps Waiting to Retire

More than 300 Chimpanzees Were Promised a Government Retirement, So Where Is It?

Chimp-Haven.jpg
A resident of retirement sanctuary, Chimp Haven. (c) Chimp Haven

February 10, 2015

The latest tale of retirement unfulfilled is a particularly sad one. It's about workers who've given up the best years of their lives, not to mention good health, for their jobs. Now that it's time to retire, they are kept waiting to move to a promised paradise. 

These twist on the story is these workers happen to be chimpanzees. According to reporting by CNN.com, hundreds of chimps who spent their lives working as government research animals are still living in laboratories despite being promised retirement from the National Institutes of Health in June of 2013.

NIH Retires Chimps From Research

It began as a kind and respectful gesture. On June 26, 2013, the NIH published a news release announcing its plans to significantly reduce the number of chimpanzees used in medical and biomedical research conducted by the government. It had planned to keep a small number of chimps, about 50, as part of ongoing testing, but would not breed them to produce more. The rest, said the NIH, would be allowed to retire. 

That word, retire, comes directly from the NIH when discussing the fate of these chips. When you think about it, the word really does fit. These are animals that have provided a service, have done work for the government (whether you agree with the work or not). It follows that they receive a cushy government retirement. 

Chimpanzee Retirement?

There are more than 200 chimps currently living in retirement sanctuaries in the Federal Sanctuary System, designed with various habitat spaces for the animals to roam and play.

These spaces must be "ethologically appropriate," meaning as close to the animals' natural environment as possible. The only federally run place is called Chimp Haven, which was founded in 1995 in Louisiana. It's a giant playground with different interconnected habitats, yards, rooms, and outdoor lakes, trees and forests.

Food is provided, often hidden in the wilderness of the sanctuary. Chimps can move freely and get to know one another. 

The stories of the chimps arriving at these sanctuaries, touching grass and feeling ​the sunshine for the first time in their lives, are heartbreaking. It can reportedly take the animals a couple so years to relax and transition to life in nature. Of course, they remain in captivity. But the captivity is designed to more closely resemble a chimp's natural habitat. 

The NIH gets federal funding to take care of the retired chimps. Under the, ahem, CHIMP Act (yep, there's a CHIMP Act, which stands for Chimpanzees Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection), there is lifetime support provided for these animals, who require between $30 to $80 a day for their care. Individual facilities like Chimp Haven also conduct fundraising and accept private donations.

There is some disagreement over how cold and sterile the conditions actually are for the chimps that remain in labs. In a February 9, 2015, post by Allyson Bennett on the NIH website, she says the current housing and care of these chimps is being misrepresented. Many of these animals live in spaces that are very much like sanctuaries.

The majority of research centers provide chimps with outdoor housing, dirt and sunlight, Bennett says. Not all facilities are equal, but neither are all sanctuaries or zoos. 

The Retirement Wait Continues

Only around 66 of the 310 would-be retirees have been moved into Chimp Haven and other sanctuaries. Others are still waiting for space to open up. With sanctuaries filled to capacity, the federal government would be forced to build and fund additional habitats to place the rest of the animals. As many of these chimps have been purposely injected with HIV or hepatitis, they are said to be old and diseased. They are dying while waiting for the move. As of February 7, 2015, 24 have already died. 

Still, the NIH argues that some of the chimps may be better off where they are. Moving the chimps may not make a difference to the animals' well-being, and moving can be stressful.

New environments are tough for old folks. 

It's definitely an interesting story, and the NIH seems to be trying to share it's side with the latest article, "Chimpanzee Retirement: Facts, Myths and Motivations." To me, it's not necessarily about the current conditions, but a promised pension left unpaid. It's a retirement issue, and one we'll continue to follow on this site. 

Are you still waiting for a retirement that seems impossible? Start here:

Can I retire? 

How Much to Save for Retirement

Turn Savings Into Retirement Income

How to Get the Most Out of Social Security

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