The other day, the blog editors received a post, on the topic of Chimp Haven in Shreveport, Louisiana, from someone called Eric. We decided against posting it. It ended with some words that were simply toxic. It’s a pity that people claiming to be animal advocates — supposedly a progressive category of people — are not mindful of raising the level of public discussion.

But there are some points in Eric’s post that people repeatedly bring up, and we need to keep answering them every time they are raised. Because understanding these issues from an animal-rights perspective is essential. So, on to the substance of Eric’s comment.

First, Eric states that “testing on chimps is a horrid thing” and follows this up by saying the fact remains that the United States government did so. Now, says Eric, “the least we could do is give them a nice place to live out the rest of their lives.”

If this implies that providing a nice place to live mitigates our use of them as test subjects, we disagree. Nothing mitigates it. We are not concerned with “the least we can do” but the right thing to do: oppose the testing.

Eric continues by pointing out that they “could never ever go back to the wild. They would die in less then a week.”

On that point, we’re agreed. And that is why we need private sanctuaries. Legally arranged, private rescues do not mitigate the use of nonhuman research subjects, yet they do remove the titles from the institutions that have seen them as instruments to use.

At the current time, all nonhuman beings existing within our society are property of humans. In such circumstances, the Immediate Big Issue is: Who is going to hold the titles? An institution of use? Or an advocate for the Long-Term Big Issue: animal rights?

Readers are asked to pause and ponder the question: All things being equal, who, of the two, should hold the titles? If your answer is “private refuge” you’ve answered the basic question from the perspective of an animal advocate (rather than the industry perspective).

Let’s move on to Eric’s next set of assertions. Eric suggests that all things aren’t equal because Primarily Primates (PPI) had problems whereas the management of Chimp Haven “have done nothing but good for the chimps in their care. Sure the CHIMP Act [“Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection Act” of 2000] says that in extreme cases a chimp could be taken back by the government but have you read the act and have you seen all the qualifications that chimp must meet to be taken. I doubt that I will ever see it in my lifetime.”

Well, Eric, we’ve got news for you: PPI has problems right now — today. The temporary receivership, which ended Tuesday, has left the place a shambles, and many of the high-valued animals have been taken (contrary to court orders) and many of the lesser-valued animals are gone and probably dead.* This situation is going to be addressed in an energetic manner because the supporters of Friends of Animals care about the refugees at PPI and care about building up sanctuaries rather than tearing them down. Eric, so should you. The point isn’t how pretty Chimp Haven may look, but how much support and care we can mobilize for the refuges run in the advocacy sector.

For starters, Chimp Haven received a $10 million grant from the federal government for building, so yes, it should look nice. Moreover, Chimp Haven’s site advertises it as one of “Louisiana’s most unique assets and a destination for thousands…where families come together for fun and hands-on learning as well as environmental and conservation education.”

But contrary to Eric’s impression, what the CHIMP Act does is outline a number of varied and broad scenarios in which an ape could be removed from Chimp Haven and placed in a lab protocol. Anyone who doubts they’ll see it in their lives should ask what decision would be ethical if one were talking about one’s own child.

Chimp Haven is not a sanctuary. Chimp Haven’s contract condones and enables the continued control of government agencies and biomedical research firms over nonhuman great apes. Before Chimp Haven’s contractual agreement under the CHIMP Act, chimpanzee use was viewed as a substantial money drain on the National Institutes of Health, and not a viable option for the future of biomedical research. At the same time, the ethical argument against using primates in research was gaining worldwide momentum. The CHIMP Act effectively bailed out researchers by cutting costs — having charitable donations make up a part of the funding that’s needed to keep the apes captive. That’s why the blood researcher Alfred Prince, who has long controlled colonies of chimpanzees, testified in support of the law to establish the holding area. In all aspects, the CHIMP Act was seen as benefiting those who use chimpanzees in experiments.

The future success of Primarily Primates as a safe, welcoming, and stable place of refuge has serious support from numerous donors and volunteers who have rallied to the cause and have pledged to continue building it up over the long term. We are conscious of the seriousness of the task ahead. But accepting it is entirely worthwhile. As part of our mission, Friends of Animals will support the continued existence of private refuges, and work for the day when institutions of use are seen only in the history books.

Lee Hall
Legal director, Friends of Animals
2 May 2007

* Note: Those who threw some animals out and prized other animals thereby attributed these valuations to them. We at Friends of Animals are concerned for each and every animal who is now, ever has, or ever will live at the refuge.