Menu Close

Europe’s last research chimps to retire

Ending years of controversy, the Netherlands has handed over its last remaining research chimpanzees to a private animal rights foundation. The move followed the approval by the Dutch House of Representatives of a ban on biomedical ape research, effectively closing the door to new chimpanzee experiments in Europe.

In June, the Dutch government and the ‘Stichting AAP’ agreed on the transfer of 63 chimpanzees currently located at the Biomedical Primate Research Center in Rijswijk, the only remaining chimp research facility in Europe. The privately funded foundation, which already runs a shelter for exotic animals near Amsterdam, will erect new facilities where the retiring chimpanzees can spend their old days, their level of care and confinement dictated by Dutch government’s standards. In return, for the next 25 years the government will contribute €€1.5 million ($1.7 million) per year, i.e. €€24,000 ($27,000) per animal.

The actual transfer of the animals will begin late next year. Twenty-nine chimpanzees infected with aids virus (HIV) or hepatitis C (HCV) will move to secured buildings at the existing AAP facilities in Almere, northeast of Amsterdam. Thirty-four animals that don’t pose any risk to humans will enjoy nicer weather at a new 200 acre AAP location near Alicante, in southern Spain. The remaining 40 will be transferred to European zoos.

The end of European ape research, long sought by animal rights activists, was accelerated by a report published in 2001 by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences (KNAW). It concluded that high costs and decreasing scientific need had made chimp studies all but superfluous. In rare instances where ape research will be crucial to combat a human disease, the panel said, large colonies funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the U.S. would be better equipped.

In May of this year, however, Dutch politicians stressed ethical, rather than practical considerations when they unanimously outlawed studies on chimps, bonobos, orangutans and gorillas—making the Netherlands the second country to do so after New Zealand. If the bill survives the Senate, as is expected, researchers will risk six months in prison for experimenting on apes in the Netherlands.

“I am pleased that with this bill the Netherlands, again, proves to be a progressive country regarding animal welfare,” Public Health undersecretary Clémence Ross proudly told House members. One representative quoted Gandhi: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Anton Berns, research director of the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI) and chair of the KNAW panel that laid the foundation for the decision, attributes the ‘moral dressing’ over his findings to ‘opportunism’. Politicians were catering to animal rights lobbyists that seem to be gaining strength, he says.

However, even in parliament itself some hypocrisy was acknowledged. Because “if the occasion arises”, the government quoted the KNAW report, Dutch researchers would still be free to do experiments abroad. Observed House member Bas van der Vlies (SGP): “Since through a back door [the Netherlands] will profit from [ape] research elsewhere, I see no reason for us to start beating our chests like gorillas.”

Related Posts