September 29, 2021

Statement on NIH Chimpanzees at the Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research

NIH continues to make progress relocating chimpanzees owned and supported by NIH to Chimp Haven, which operates the federal sanctuary in Keithville, Louisiana. Since my 2015 decision to end NIH’s support of biomedical research using chimpanzees, NIH has safely transported 203 chimpanzees to the federal sanctuary. The transport of the chimpanzees is an animal welfare driven process that is closely coordinated between NIH, Chimp Haven, and the three primate facilities that are responsible for the chimpanzees’ care and safety. The three facilities are the Alamogordo Primate Facility (APF), New Mexico, the Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research (KCCMR), Bastrop, Texas, and the Southwest National Primate Research Center (SNPRC), San Antonio.

In February 2019, the three primate facilities and Chimp Haven developed standard criteria to assess the health of the chimpanzees at their locations to help inform relocation decisions. NIH also developed a protocol for an independent panel of veterinarians to use when relocation to Chimp Haven is not recommended by the attending veterinarian at the sending facility (APF, KCCMR, or SNPRC) or receiving facility (Chimp Haven).  Since finalizing my decision on the APF chimpanzees in October 2019, NIH has been working closely with KCCMR to identify chimpanzees that can safely move to Chimp Haven. The attending veterinarian at KCCMR determined that it may be unsafe to transfer the remaining 51 chimpanzees at this location to Chimp Haven. Following this input and per the protocol, a panel of NIH veterinarians evaluated the records of all 51 chimpanzees and had several discussions with the KCCMR attending veterinarians, consulting cardiologist, and behavioral experts, as well as a Chimp Haven behaviorist. The panel determined that additional assessments are needed for 2 of the remaining 51 animals at KCCMR to determine if they can safely relocate to the federal sanctuary at Chimp Haven. As explained in the protocol, in cases where the NIH veterinary panel disagrees with the recommendation of the attending veterinarian at the sending facility, they will conduct an in-person physical examination of the animals to determine suitability for relocation to Chimp Haven, in coordination with the sending facility and Chimp Haven veterinarians. That visit by NIH veterinarians is now being arranged.

The NIH veterinary panel agrees with the KCCMR assessment on 49 of the 51 chimpanzees and has determined these chimpanzees are at high risk of harm from transfer and therefore should live the remainder of their lives at KCCMR to ensure their safety and welfare. NIH agrees with this decision. KCCMR has a robust enrichment program tailored for each animal and indoor/outdoor living space with apparatuses to allow the chimpanzees to climb and swing. The chimpanzees have close bonds with their caretakers, from whom they receive excellent care. 

NIH will continue to relocate all NIH-owned or -supported chimpanzees at SNPRC that can safely move to Chimp Haven.  All decisions will be captured in NIH’s annual chimpanzee management reports.

I am grateful for the continued cooperation with the primate facilities and Chimp Haven, who are all committed to act in the best interest of the chimpanzees.

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, National Institutes of Health