Conservation & Threats

Chimps in Labs

Chimpanzees in Biomedical Research


Chimps are so like us that they can catch or be infected by nearly all known human infectious diseases. For this reason, they have been used in biomedical research and in the army as animal models for human diseases, mainly to develop vaccines against hepatitis A, B, and HIV. However, during almost 20 years of research, with the exception of two male chimpanzees at Yerkes Primate Research Centre, no chimp has come down with full-blown symptoms of AIDS. Chimpanzees have also been used for assessing the damage done to the brain and skull during simulated head impact crashes, social and maternal deprivation, alcohol use, oral contraceptives, aging, cognitive studies and heartless transplants experiments.


Who are the chimpanzees used in medical research?

  • Few of them are wild caught chimpanzees
  • Bred for research
  • Privately owned (ex pet)
  • Retired from the entertainment industry


Defenders of chimpanzee research maintain that using chimpanzees has yielded many valuable and important insights into human diseases and their cures. Opponents argue that there are alternatives to using chimpanzees, including the use of human volunteers. Nevertheless, it has been proven that chimpanzees, who live alone in small lab cages, experience ongoing mental and physical suffering from the endless boredom, confinement, fear and stress of daily laboratory life, in addition to the many medical experiments they have to endure. Resulting psychological suffering can become lifelong trauma, even after such chimps are released into sanctuary.

History and Legislation


Today, every country in the world has stopped using chimpanzees in medical research, except for the United States and Gabon, who still operate six and one research centers, respectively. But it has been a long journey...

  • 1923 Psychobiologist Robert Yerkes purchases two young chimpanzees, Chim and Panzee, considered as the first chimps used in research.
  • 1930 the first research facility using chimpanzees is founded : Yerkes Primate Research Center
  • 1960 the National Institutes of Health establishes 8 NIH-funded primate research facilities.
  • 1966 The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is enacted to provide some protection for animals in research.
  • 1975 The US & Canada restrict and then prohibit import of chimpanzees caught in the wild under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
  • 1976  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designates chimpanzees in captivity as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act, allowing for their continued use in research.
  • The first North American chimpanzees sanctuary opens
  • 1986 NIH establishes the Chimpanzee Breeding and Research Program designed to produce greater numbers of chimpanzees to be used in HIV/AIDS research.
  • 1995 A moratorium on the breeding of federally-owned chimpanzees is put in place by NIH due to a "surplus" of chimpanzees, after the realization that the chimpanzee is a poor model for researching HIV. It becomes permanent in 2007.
  • 2000 The U.S. passes the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance, and Protection (CHIMP) Act.
  • 2005 Dr. Jane Goodall, along with national and international animal protection organizations, signs a resolution calling for an end to the use of nonhuman primates in biomedical research and testing.
  • The U.S. passes the “Chimp Haven is Home Act,” prohibiting all “retired” chimpanzees in federal sanctuary from ever being returned to research, securing the original intent of the 2000 CHIMP Act
  • 2010 NIH announces plans to transfer more than 200 government-owned chimpanzees to the Southwest National Primate Research Center in Texas, where they will be readily available for invasive research. 14 of them have been transferred so far.
  • Dr. Jane Goodall sends a letter to NIH Director and along with 1,000 scientists and doctors, pledges support for ending the use of chimpanzees in invasive research.
  • The European Union bans medical research conducted on chimpanzees, but the new directive will not go into effect until January 2013.
  • 2011 In 2008, the Great Ape Protection Act (GAPA) was introduced into the US Congress. The bill, reintroduced in 2009, in 2010 and 2011, is now renamed the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act (H.R.1513/S.810).
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service is considering changing the status of captive chimpanzees from “threatened” to “endangered” that will protect them from being used in research.


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