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Published: Monday November 18, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday November 18, 2013 MYT 8:34:39 AM

Great apes escape lab research

Free again: Nine baboons formerly used for lab experiments now live in the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary in Dilley, Texas, the United States. – File pic

Free again: Nine baboons formerly used for lab experiments now live in the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary in Dilley, Texas, the United States. – File pic

Baboons retired from a research programme at a pharmaceutical laboratory have a new home at a 75ha sanctuary.

EARLY last month, nine baboons aged 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 countries that still allow medical research on a group of mammals whose genetic make-up 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 Britain 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% similar to the great ape species. Physical traits humans share with 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 programme at a US national pharmaceutical laboratory. At the Born Free Sanctuary the newcomers will be able to explore the 75ha facility, where they will socialise and be permitted to explore the world outside a cage for the first time. They will gradually be introduced to the new environment to prevent them from being overwhelmed by their new-found 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.

The United States is the world’s largest user of chimpanzees for biomedical research and has 937 individual subjects currently available in US labs. In 2011, the Institute of Medicine stated in a report titled Chimpanzees In Biomedical And Behavioural 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 US National Institute of Health suspended all new grants for biomedical and behavioural research on chimpanzees and accepted the first uniform criteria for assessing the necessity of such research. Those guidelines require that the 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 US died when Congress failed to act on the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act in 2011 and 2012. – Akron Beacon Journal/McClatchy Tribune Information Services

Tags / Keywords: Environment, Lifestyle, Lifestyle, Ecowatch, Animal testing, Primate, Baboons

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