This month, nine baboons ages 13 to 23 that had previously been used for scientific experiments were granted a reprieve and will live out the remainder of their lives at the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary in Dilley, Texas.
The United States is one of the few civilized countries that still allows medical research on a group of mammals whose genetic makeup closely resembles that of humans.
Medical research on great apes has been banned in Belgium, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands and New Zealand. Spain and the Balearic Islands have granted great apes legal rights and Japan, Australia and the United Kingdom have laws that severely restrict the use of great apes in research.
Scientists have sequenced the genome of the chimpanzee and found that humans are 96 percent similar to the great ape species. Physical traits that humans share with most primates include: hair instead of fur, fingernails instead of claws, opposable thumbs, higher brain-to-body-size ratio, prehensility (ability to grasp with fingers and/or toes), padded digits with fingerprints, binocular vision and reduced sense of smell that makes us more dependent on vision.
The animals that made it to the sanctuary were retired from a research program at a national pharmaceutical laboratory.
At the Born Free Sanctuary, the newcomers will be able to explore the 186-acre facility, where they will socialize and be permitted to explore the world outside a cage for the first time. The baboons, which are Old World monkeys, will gradually be introduced to the new environment to prevent them from being overwhelmed by their newfound freedom and will learn how to live in a colony.
“This is a happy ending for these lucky nine, as it has been for our hundreds of residents at the sanctuary. We are ecstatic that we can give them a life of grass, trees, ponds, exercise, proper food and medical care,” said Adam Roberts, executive vice president of Born Free USA in an email announcing the recovery of the animals.
The United States is the world’s largest user of chimpanzees for biomedical research and has 937 individual subjects currently available in U.S. labs.
In 2011, the Institute of Medicine stated in a report titled Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research: Assessing the Necessity that with advancements in alternate research tools, the use of chimpanzees is largely unnecessary.
“For many years, experiments using chimpanzees have been instrumental in advancing scientific knowledge and have led to new medicines to prevent and treat life-threatening and debilitating diseases. However, recent advances in alternate research tools, including cell-based technologies and other animal models, have rendered chimpanzees largely unnecessary as research subjects,” the report states.
After the report was published, the National Institute of Health suspended all new grants for biomedical and behavioral research on chimpanzees and accepted the first uniform criteria for assessing the necessity of such research. Those guidelines require that research be necessary for human health, and that there be no other way to accomplish it.
Bills sent to Congress to ban or mitigate issues involving great apes have largely been overlooked.
Most recently, a bill that would have put an end to invasive research on chimpanzees in the United States died when Congress failed to act on the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act in 2011 and 2012.
Learn more about Born Free USA and the sanctuary, make a donation, or “adopt a primate” at www.bornfreeusa.org/sanctuary.
Other animals in the news:
Family Fall Day Winter Clothing and Pet Food Drive — Hummel Funeral Homes and Crematories/Pet Services is holding the event from 2 to 4 p.m. today at 3475 Copley Road, Copley Township. There will be prizes, refreshments, a coloring contest, free pumpkins and more. Pets are welcome but must be kept on a leash. Call 330-247-1401 for more information.
Pet CPR and First Aid Demonstration — Stow-Munroe Falls Public Library, 3512 Darrow Road, Stow, is offering a free demonstration with Dr. Eric Brooks from the Stow Kent Animal Hospital at 6 p.m. Monday. To register, visit www.smfpl.org or call 330-688-3295, ext 4.
Kathy Antoniotti writes about pets for the Akron Beacon Journal. She is unable to help locate, place or provide medical attention for an individual animal. If you have an idea or question about pets, write her at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640; call 330-996-3565; or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.