The notion is no longer a political joke. There's a bill in Congress - a bipartisan one - to end invasive research on chimpanzees. And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, responding to a petition by the Jane Goodall Institute, the Humane Society and others, this week announced it would initiate a review of whether captive chimpanzees ought to be designated as "endangered," as wild chimps already are. The very possible outcome: chimps could be prevented from being used in medical experiments or for entertainment. Some scientists are protesting, but most labs have moved beyond primate research; indeed, the United States and Gabon are the only two nations in the world that conduct medical research on chimps.
After chimps, our closest evolutionary cousins, it's a somewhat slippery slope down the evolutionary ladder, in part because science is revealing more and more about the extraordinary mental and emotional capacity of other higher-order mammals.
More than a few respectable scientists now make the case that dolphins, for instance, deserve basic protection from captivity, slaughter and mistreatment. Don't laugh; they are the planet's second most intelligent organisms. It's simple human decency to seek to prevent some of their suffering.
This important legislation has bipartisan support and would end invasive and harmful experiments on chimpanzees, permanently end federal breeding programs, and release federally owned chimpanzees to sanctuaries.
The biological, emotional, and social needs of chimpanzees simply cannot be met in a captive laboratory environment. Similar to human victims of trauma, chimpanzees suffer in laboratories, exhibiting signs of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
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