Animal Emotions

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Protecting Chimpanzees from Further Abuse

A leading scientific magazine calls for a ban on invasive research

In many previous essays I've written about the emotional lives of chimpanzees (and other nonhuman animals) and the work that many are doing to end the use of these amazing beings in invasive research and to protect their dwindling natural habitiats. Some people think that people who work for these ends are "radicals" but this is not the case at all. It's not radical to care about animals and their homes. 

Now, a major scientific magazine has called for a ban on the use of chimpanzees in invasive research. The editors of Scientific American have stepped forth and written "In our view, the time has come to end biomedical experimentation on chimpanzees." They also note that current regulations do not adequately protect chimpanzees: "The Animal Welfare Act affords chimps some protection. But clearly more is needed. To develop and enforce tighter regulations, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which enforces the Animal Welfare Act, should establish an ethics committee specifically for biomedical research on chimps. The committee would need to include not just medical researchers but also bioethicists and representatives from animal welfare groups. Such measures would no doubt make medical testing on chimps even more expensive than it already is. Yet if human lives are going to benefit from research on our primate cousins, it is incumbent on us to minimize their suffering, provide them with an acceptable quality of life-and develop techniques that hasten the day when all of Bobby's fellow chimps can join him in retirement." Bobby is a chimpanzee who was used in scientific research for years on end and lived alone in a cramped and barren cage. He eventually became severely depressed and self-destructive. It has been well-established that chimpanzees suffer from a wide variety of mood disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Other animals - tens of milliions in fact - also are not adequately protected by the curent Federal Animal Welfare Act. They too need far more protection than they are afforded. 

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The editors of Scientific American are not "radicals" and indeed, they are not alone in calling for a ban on the use of chimpanzees in invasive research. In an essay in the New York Times Roscoe G. Bartlett, a republican representative from Maryland and former physiologist at the Navy's School of Aviation Medicine concluded "Americans can longer justifying confining these magnificent and innocent animals to traumatic and invasive research and life imprisonment."

As time goes on, support for ending the use of chimpanzees in invasive research is growing. Let's keep the pressure on to make this a reality. And let's also remember the millions of other animals, sentient or not, who are not protected from extreme abuse. 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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