He notes that fewer scientists use primates for medical research.
The old days of using chimpanzees for medical research are coming to an end, and a bill reflecting that has been introduced in Congress. Sixth District Congressman Roscoe Bartlett is sponsoring the Great Apes Protection and Cost Saving Act. "There are about a thousand chimpanzees in this the country, more than 500 of them are owned by the federal government and paid for by the taxpayer," Bartlett says. "Almost none of those are currently being used in research because the use of the whole animals is kind of surpassed by tissue culture and so forth."
Bartlett’s bill would put these chimps in animal preserves, and if the federal government needed them for research, they would be available. "Using them in sanctuaries, directly from sanctuaries, will make them very much better subjects for research, if, in fact, they need to research with them, and most people in this area doubt that they will be needed in the future," he says. "In the event they’re needed, they’ll be there."
Bartlett says placing these chimpanzees in animal sanctuaries would let them interact with their own species.
A number of countries have outlawed or severely restricted the use of primates for medical research. Bartlett writes in an op-ed published in "The Hill" that invasive research using chimpanzees is strictly limited in the European Union, and in 11 other countries. The only one which still allows it, he says, is the nation of Gabon in Africa.
When he was a research scientist, Bartlett, who has a Ph.D in human physiology, used primates as research subjects. "I was involved in the first sub-orbital primate flight," he says. "These were not chimpanzees by any means. These were the little spider monkeys, the organ-grinder monkey. And my responsibility was to make sure we had adequate time to get to the capsule before they suffocated after they landed. There was no problem at all. We got to the capsule very quickly."
The Great Apes Protection and Cost Saving Act has 175 co-sponsors, bot Democrats and Republicans. Bartlett gives it a good chance of passage in Congress. A similar bill has been introduced in the US Senate.
"It’s the right thing to do. It saves money. It’s good for the great apes. And if they’re needed for the future, they’ll still be there," he says.