Tag Archives: Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act 2011

What Cost Savings? A Closer Look at the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2011

The status and future of chimpanzee research in the US are at the heart of much discussion lately in both scientific and public (also here and here) spheres.  A committee convened by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to consider the issue held a number of meetings and is expected to report its findings to the NIH by the end of this year. Legislation to end great ape research, also introduced in 2007 and 2009 (H.R. 1513: Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2011;  S. 810: Great Ape  Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2011; GAPA), was again introduced last Spring. This is the fourth of a series of posts aimed at encouraging thoughtful and fact-based consideration of the full range of complex issues associated with chimpanzee research and both short- and long-term responsibility for their welfare, care and housing. Posts include:

08/12/11: Facts must inform discussion of future of chimpanzee research.

10/13/11: Joseph M. Erwin, PhD Efforts to ban chimpanzee research are misguided.

11/21/11: A closer look at the Great Ape Protection Act.

Previous posts and other discussions of chimpanzee research have focused on ethical questions, animal welfare, and ongoing evaluation of the role chimpanzees do play, or should play, in scientific research.  These are the most important issues to address in discussion of the future of great apes in the U.S. At the same time, this year’s version of the Great Ape Protection Act has included a new focus, with addition of the phrase “and Cost Savings.”  The new language and the calculations given as basis for its assertions have received relatively little careful broad discussion or evaluation.

According to cost analysis for the legislation compiled by the Humane Society of the United States, the majority of cost-savings from GAPA – 76% – would result from ending federal grants for projects involving chimpanzees.  Of the “nearly $30 million saved annually” over $22 million reflects funds committed to support research projects that involve chimpanzees and are funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

HSUS GAPA Cost Analysis

It appears that this number was arrived at by summing the cost of all NIH grants that involve chimpanzees, regardless of their topic or the types of activities in which the animals are engaged. Whether this number could reflect the total funds invested in what is commonly considered invasive research is not readily apparent. Some of these grants may involve noninvasive studies, others may be dedicated to studies that require as little as samples of DNA—something commonly done in human studies. It does appear that the underlying assumption for the cost analysis is a complete block on any NIH research grants that involve chimpanzees. (We welcome correction if this is not an assumption of the HSUS analysis or any cost analysis used to support the claims associated with GAPA.)

The remaining savings are projected from reduction in care costs if the animals were moved to sanctuaries.  Whether sanctuaries provide lower-cost care than research facilities is subject to some debate, in part because care costs vary across facilities. This is illustrated in the most recent data published by the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) October 31, 2011 “Costs for Maintaining Humane Care and Welfare of Chimpanzees:”

Based on the most recent awards and payments, NIH is spending an average of $35 per day per chimpanzee in research facilities; $67.00 per day per chimpanzee in the research reserve facility at Alamogordo Primate Facility (APF); and $47 per day per chimpanzee in the federal sanctuary facility operated by Chimp Haven. The average for research facilities becomes $44 per day if the research reserve facility at APF is included. See Table 1 for detailed figures.”

The reasons for variance in costs are complex. Among other things, they do not reflect differences in housing, clinical care, or health status of the animals (e.g., older animals or animals with chronic health problems may require more expensive treatment and care). But overall, the numbers reported by NCRR show a rough equivalence in care costs at the federal sanctuary and many research facilities.

Table 1 “Costs for Maintaining Humane Care and Welfare of Chimpanzees, October 31, 2011



# of Chimpanzees,
as of 10/31/11

NCRR cost*,

NCRR cost,





















Research Reserve


# of Chimpanzees,
as of 10/31/11

NCRR cost*,

NCRR cost,





Federal Sanctuary


# of Chimpanzees,
as of 10/31/11

NCRR cost*,

NCRR cost,





What is not shown by these numbers or by most of the discussion of GAPA are the number of other issues that should accompany thoughtful consideration of the long-term care and housing of chimpanzees.  Dr. Joseph Erwin provided commentary on many of these in a previous guest post, among them concerns about ensuring the highest quality of care for the animals:

Most chimpanzees in scientific and educational institutions (research colonies and zoological gardens) live in spacious, social, and secure environments, where they are provided with excellent professional healthcare, and are afforded protection under the Animal Welfare Act, through inspection by the USDA, and publicly available reports of those inspections. The legislative ban would require removal of chimpanzees from decent facilities that were built at great public expense, and would deposit hundreds of chimpanzees in “sanctuaries” that provide no assurance of competent professional care, are not subject to Animal Welfare Act protection, and are not publicly transparent.”

One of the biggest unanswered (and virtually unmentioned in public spheres) questions surrounding the effects of this legislation is where it is that these chimpanzees would go? Is the intent that they would stay in current facilities? That new facilities would be constructed? While some animal rights groups have advocated for moving chimpanzees from their current research facilities to Chimp Haven, there is little information that would indicate that is a feasible option. Nor do the discussions of cost-savings and future plans include information about projected costs to build sufficient sanctuary space that could accommodate the number of animals currently housed in research facilities.

This is a non-trivial issue. For example, the publicly-available NCRR cost information informs us that the cost to construct the only federally-funded chimpanzee sanctuary, Chimp Haven, was $11.8 million. Chimp Haven houses 130 animals.  In other words, the initial construction cost was just over $90,000 per chimpanzee.

There are an additional 594 NIH-supported chimpanzees currently housed in research facilities. There are also hundreds of privately-owned chimpanzees. Thus, on even rough calculation based on the construction cost of Chimp Haven, it would appear that at least many millions of dollars would be required to extend the capacity for sanctuary housing to these animals. 


The cost, feasibility, and plan for constructing additional facilities that could provide care for these chimpanzees does not seem apparent in the cost calculations for the current legislation. Nor is it an issue raised much in public discussion.  It is a relatively easy thing to call for an end to chimpanzee research and to encourage public support by appealing to fiscal conservatism. What is far more challenging is to include consideration of real factors that significantly influence the outcomes for the animals, including an accurate assessment of where they can be housed, how best practices for care can be supported, real costs and dedicated sources of funding for long-term maintenance and facilities. Those details matter and deserve far more attention than they currently receive by those claiming to have chimpanzees’ welfare as the utmost priority.

Allyson J. Bennett

Guest post: Efforts to ban chimpanzee research are misguided.

The status and future of chimpanzee research in the US are at the heart of much discussion lately in both scientific and public spheres.  Discussion of human relationships with the great apes, their role in research—past, present, and future—and our responsibility for their continued care deserve thoughtful, well-informed consideration by both the scientific community and the public.  One of the primary goals of Speaking of Research is to contribute to dialogue about animal research and to provide factual information that is sometimes missing from the public conversation. In the case of chimpanzee research, their housing and care, and the GAPA legislation, it seems clear that there is uneven understanding of the current situation in the U.S., as well as lack of attention to the details and consequences of the proposed legislation were it to be enacted.  We have asked a number of primatologists involved in chimpanzee research, care and management to contribute to this discussion and begin a series on the issue here, with a guest post from Joseph M. Erwin, Ph.D. (UC Davis, 1974). 




Efforts to ban chimpanzee research are misguided.

The author is a semi-retired consulting primatologist, whose career included service as a zoological curator, journal editor, university lecturer, and research associate at two major primate research centers. His most recent full-time position was as a VP and Division Director for an NIH research contract company, where he developed and implemented a program of environmental enrichment for nonhuman primates, designed innovative facilities, and engaged in research projects on aging in great apes and conservation biology field studies of primate populations in Indonesia. He has held university appointments in psychology, anthropology, child development, physiology, behavioral biology, and pathobiology, including affiliations in schools of human and veterinary medicine, as well as arts and sciences. He is currently a research professor of anthropology at George Washington University, Washington, D.C.  These comments were prompted by the continuing effort to ban scientific research involving chimpanzees. These are the opinions of the author and are not represented as policies or perspectives of any of his current or former clients or any organization with which he is affiliated. 

Dr. Joseph Erwin

You may not want to read this essay if you believe it is morally repugnant and unacceptable to involve human subjects in any kind of biomedical or behavioral research or clinical trials. If you do not believe that humans are animals and chimpanzees are our nearest biological kin, well, maybe these thoughts will not appeal to you. If, however, you recognize that humans have some obligation to discover and apply knowledge that can benefit our own and other species, you might want to read on.

Chimpanzees, like humans and other animals, deserve respect and due consideration. “Due consideration” implies that better decisions can be made if they are based on knowledge and understanding than on ignorance. The more we study chimpanzees (and humans), the better we can understand them, and the more likely our decisions are to benefit their health, well-being, and conservation, and the less likely we are to perform risky, harmful, or inhumane procedures. The current quality of care, refinement of procedures, and dramatic improvement in zoological and research facilities, all testify to the fact that scientific studies of chimpanzees in nature and captivity have changed the way we think about chimpanzees and how we can appropriately and humanely learn from them.

The continuing campaign to ban invasive research involving chimpanzees relies heavily on stories about chimpanzees who were treated in ways none of us would currently condone. Even in the exaggerated tone with which these stories are told, there is some truth. During the fifties, sixties, and even to some extent in the seventies and eighties, some chimpanzees were kept under very restrictive conditions and were subjected to tests and procedures that are no longer considered humane or acceptable and have been discarded.

By about thirty years ago, things had begun to change. Environments became less restrictive. The critical value of maternal rearing and social grouping was recognized. Scientists and facility managers began to insist on improved physical facilities. The value of information obtained noninvasively became clearer, including acceptance of the important role of behavioral monitoring and training to cooperate with caregivers, in contrast to the coercive methods that were previously thought to be essential.

But, the drum beat continues to ban “invasive” research involving chimpanzees, with claims that scientists in research facilities continually and routinely “torture” and “abuse” chimpanzees. “Invasive” has a nasty sound to it, and most of us would not approve of what is implied by the term. That serves those who use the term deceptively very well. First, they equate “invasive” with “torture,” “abuse,” and “vivisection.” Then they formally define the term in ways that would prohibit procedures we currently welcome for ourselves and our loved ones. The proposed research ban would criminalize procedures of which well-informed people of good conscience would certainly approve. The implications are far reaching, and they are not in the best interests of either humans or chimpanzees.

Most chimpanzees in scientific and educational institutions (research colonies and zoological gardens) live in spacious, social, and secure environments, where they are provided with excellent professional healthcare, and are afforded protection under the Animal Welfare Act, through inspection by the USDA, and publicly available reports of those inspections. The legislative ban would require removal of chimpanzees from decent facilities that were built at great public expense, and would deposit hundreds of chimpanzees in “sanctuaries” that provide no assurance of competent professional care, are not subject to Animal Welfare Act protection, and are not publicly transparent.

The proposed legislation to ban chimpanzee involvement in research is fundamentally dishonest. It claims to provide an improved quality of life for chimpanzees, without providing any verifiable assurance that it would actually do so. It also claims that the legislation would result in cost-savings for taxpayers. How would money be saved? Perhaps by provision of facilities that are less expensive because they are less secure or do not meet the standards required of zoos and universities; possibly by using well-meaning unpaid volunteers, rather than professionally qualified care and veterinary staff; and maybe by ensuring that scientific grant funding from government sources could not be used for any kind of research (no matter how humanely conducted). Elimination of public research grant funds is a major aspect of the proposed cost savings. The authors of the legislation are surely aware that the public will continue to be financially responsible for the long-term care of chimpanzees owned by the government, whether the chimpanzees are involved in productive research or not. Further, when well-meant sanctuaries financially fail, as some are sure to do (consider the examples fromEurope), US taxpayers will be on the hook to care for the chimpanzees. Neither humans nor chimpanzees would benefit from the restrictions imposed by this kind of excessive regulation that will not live up to its claims.

We continue to have much to learn from the careful and humane scientific study of humans and great apes, including chimpanzees. Noninvasive research (more accurately defined as the sorts of procedures that are ethically acceptable for human subjects and are based on due consideration of chimpanzee and human differences) can provide much mutually beneficial information on aging and life span development, genomic influences on health and behavior, best healthcare practices, preventive medicine, and the cognitive and emotional characteristics humans share with our sibling species. Do care about chimpanzees and work hard to ensure that they are well cared for. Don’t fall for legislation that is anti-science, anti-research, and ultimately harmful to humans and chimpanzees.

Joseph M. Erwin

Facts must inform discussion of future of chimpanzee research

The future of behavioral and biomedical research with chimpanzees is the focus of current discussion by a committee convened by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) at the request of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.  The second public meeting of the IOM convened Wednesday and Thursday. The meeting includes both experts on a broad range of topics that are investigated with chimpanzee studies, as well as members of the public, conservation, animal welfare and animal rights groups. The agenda and speaker list can be viewed here.

The charge of the committee is described as follows:

Specifically, the committee will review the current use of chimpanzees for biomedical and behavioral research and:

  • Explore contemporary and anticipated biomedical research questions to determine if chimpanzees are or will be necessary for research discoveries and to determine the safety and efficacy of new prevention or treatment strategies. If biomedical research questions are identified:
  • Describe the unique biological/immunological characteristics of the chimpanzee that make it the necessary animal model for use in the types of research.
  • Provide recommendations for any new or revised scientific parameters to guide how and when to use these animals for research.
  • Explore contemporary and anticipated behavioral research questions to determine if chimpanzees are necessary for progress in understanding social, neurological and behavioral factors that influence the development, prevention, or treatment of disease.”

The IOM Committee and public meetings represent the kind of serious, thorough, and fact-based discussion that is essential to inform public decisions about animal research.

In striking contrast to this reasoned approach, however, was the emotional New York Times opinion piece from Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) that appeared on the opening day of the IOM’s latest meeting. Bartlett is a co-sponsor of legislation that would end much of the chimpanzee research in the United States, including studies like the recent tests of an Ebola virus vaccine intended to protect wild chimpanzees, and that proposes to move all chimpanzees to federally-subsidized sanctuaries.

Bartlett’s op-ed opens with an anecdote about his experience with primate research in the 1960’s and his more recent conclusion that such research is no longer necessary because:

“… many new techniques are cheaper, faster and more effective, including computer modeling and the testing of very small doses on human volunteers. In vitro methods now grow human cells and tissues for human biomedical studies, bypassing the need for whole animals.”

Bartlett makes this assertion as though it were undisputed, whereas the reality is that the overwhelming majority of biomedical scientists, leading scientific organizations, and medical charities recognize that animal studies are crucial to current and future advances in medicine. In vitro and other research methods are nowhere near capable of replacing the use of animals in many areas of research, indeed our science news blog contains many examples of how animal research is helping to push the boundaries of scientific knowledge and medicine in emerging fields including tissue engineering, gene therapy, stem cell medicine, nanotech smart drugs and personalized medicine. In fact, the purpose of the IOM committee and hearings is to review evidence from a large number of experts with knowledge of the current state of knowledge and needs of the field. Bartlett does not have this expertise and it is unclear why he would make such an ill-informed statement, particularly in a venue like the NYT and particularly in light of the IOM committee meetings.

Furthermore, it is unclear that Bartlett is well-informed about current conditions for chimpanzees in research facilities in the US, or fully aware of the complex issues and challenges inherent in managing chimpanzee populations in either research setting, or the sanctuary settings that he advocates. Although he may have another source of knowledge, those that he references are his own research experience with primates in the NASA space program— which appears to have been prior to the 1966 passage of the Animal Welfare Act, videos, and the recently released movie, Project Nim, about research that took place decades ago.

As evidence of poor treatment of apes, the congressman makes the point that chimpanzees are sometimes darted to deliver anesthesia and “If you’ve seen video of a knockdown, you know it is clearly frightening and stressful.”  In fact, few people—including those working in primate laboratory research settings– would disagree with that statement, just as few would argue that continued efforts to improve management of captive chimpanzee populations are unnecessary. That is why major research facilities that house chimpanzees also have extensive behavioral management, training, and enrichment programs and research personnel who are committed to improving the animals’ welfare.  And included in the accomplishments of behavioral management and research personnel is progress in training animals for cooperative injections (e.g., voluntarily extending an arm to a trainer) in order to reduce stress.

Many people might imagine that the living conditions for chimpanzees in research facilities and sanctuaries are dramatically different. In reality both face similar challenges. For example, Bartlettimplies that things like “knock-downs” only occur at research facilities. In actuality, sanctuaries also require animals to be anesthetized for physical exams and health procedures, also have chimpanzees that are not trained for cooperative injection, and also employ darting. And while the housing conditions for chimpanzees in laboratories vary across facilities, Bartlett’s statement that “… even the mere confinement in laboratory cages deprives chimpanzees of basic physical, social and emotional sustenance” fails to acknowledge the more complex reality. Housing environments for laboratory chimpanzees can also be quite similar to those found in sanctuaries, including large spaces, social groups, complex climbing structures, and varied environmental enrichment.

The future of behavioral and biomedical research with chimpanzees merits serious and sustained discussion that is based in fact, advances in research technologies – ranging from new in vitro techniques, to genetically modified mice, through to studies in humans – mean that it is now time to consider what chimpanzee research is still necessary and ethically justifiable. One of the best avenues for understanding the complex issues that are involved in choices about both continued research and about how to best house and care for chimpanzees lies in listening not only to those who oppose research, but also in hearing from those currently engaged in research, husbandry, and animal welfare efforts within both sanctuary and research facilities.

The content of Representative Bartlett’s op-ed suggests that he may have allowed videos, movies, decades-old experience, and one very biased set of voices to inform his understanding of the current state of great ape research in the US.  If this is the case, we hope that Representative Bartlett listens to the IOM panel discussions and learns more about current conditions, ongoing research, and the full range of challenges involved in decisions about animal research.


Allyson J. Bennett