Update: NEAVS, the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA), the Laboratory Primate Advocacy Group (LPAG), and the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) submitted a Rulemaking Petition to the USDA asking the agency to adopt stronger standards under the AWA to promote the psychological well-being of primates used in research. To read the full petition, please click here.
Can chimpanzee laboratory confinement and use ever be justified?
Because of the conditions they endure, we observe chimpanzees (both in and rescued from a lab), whose behavior is consistent with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in humans—a diagnosis that captures the severe affects that repeated, prolonged stress and trauma have on psychological well-being. Our research indicates that chimpanzees suffer psychologically while in a lab, and are left with life-long damage. If a chimpanzee, can suffer as we would; and if their suffering can be life-long, then the question is begged: Can their laboratory confinement and use ever be justified?
—Theodora Capaldo, EdD
Psychologist and NEAVS President
Inadequate and ineffective
In 1985, the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was amended by Congress to require that the USDA establish standards for the psychological well-being of nonhuman primates and their minimum standards of care. (1) The regulations were finally issued in 1991. (2)
These minimum regulations include housing, provision of food and water, sanitation, ventilation, temperature, shelter, veterinary care, and for providing an environment adequate to “promote…psychological well-being….” (3)
Limited and unclear
The additional primate regulations are considered inadequate by primate experts and former lab caregivers. USDA inspectors also see ample room for improvement and find the regulations difficult to enforce. (4) The regulations provide only “minimum specifications” (5) that fall grossly short of the natural needs of these species. Research by Project R&R’s science team have documented the extent of harm and suffering that chimpanzees endure when their psychological needs are not met.
In many areas, no specific requirements are stipulated. For example, performance goals are set (such as providing “enrichment” to reduce boredom) that rely on interpretation by the facilities “in accordance with currently accepted professional journals or reference guides, and as directed by the attending veterinarian.” (6)
Without specific language, interpretation of the requirements (often by the attending veterinarian who may or may not have adequate training in the needs of a particular species) varies. This can result in far less than appropriate protection for a given primate. Many USDA/APHIS inspectors have reported difficulty in assessing whether goals were met and in identifying non-compliance. (7)
As with the other aspects of the AWA, these regulations also fail to protect by allowing facilities to make “exemptions” at their discretion.
A new plan in 1999—no action to date
In 1999, the USDA provided a draft policy that outlines more specific regulations—largely based on USDA inspectors’ anonymous recommendations. (8) The policy was widely objected to by the biomedical community. The USDA has to date failed to finalize the policy or implement any improved regulations. (9)
Subpart D of the regulations specifies conditions for the size, construction, maintenance, and cleaning of housing facilities, as well as for the temperature, ventilation, and lighting of indoor and outdoor facilities. (10)
Cage size regulations establish a legal minimum, which is the standard adopted by many labs. (11) These sizes—based on the weight of the animal—fall far short of providing the necessary space to allow for any semblance of well-being for this highly energetic order. For example, a 22-pound monkey is allotted 4.3 square feet—the equivalent of keeping a full-grown Cocker Spaniel in a 2′ x 2′ cage.
Great apes are exempt from the weight requirements, but demand an “additional volume of space in excess of that required for Group 6 animals [over 55 pounds]… to allow for normal postural adjustments.” (12)
Chimpanzees are allowed a minimum of 5′ x 5′ x 7′ of space. (13) To put this into perspective, consider that an adult male chimpanzee (about 4′ 5″ tall and about 120-130 pounds) would have only enough room to stand up and take a step or two in any direction.
With exceptionally long arms in proportion to their bodies, many larger chimpanzees can easily touch the top of their cage. Some chimpanzees have lived in cages this size for years—some with no outdoor access whatsoever. No bedding is required in spite of the fact that making “night nests” is an essential part of everyday life for chimpanzees in the wild.
Facilities housing nonhuman primates are required to develop, document, and adhere to a plan for environmental enhancement to address social needs and provide enrichment to reduce the trauma of laboratory stress and boredom. (14) The requirements have no specific guidelines and rely on the facility’s interpretation. This lack of specificity allows some facilities to adhere to the bare minimum.
For example, for many years chimpanzees at the Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP) lived alone in cages approximately 5′ x 5′ x 7′ with a suspended rubber tire, no bedding, and little if any enrichment other than contact with human personnel.
Individual primates infected with a contagious disease can be caged in isolation. (15) Being purposely infected can often carry with it the additional emotional suffering of not being with other chimpanzees.
Regulations require that highly social primates who are caged in isolation must only be able to see and hear other primates unless the attending veterinarian deems this is not in the interest of their health, safety, or well-being. (16)
The regulations on “environment enhancement to promote psychological well-being” are an extremely important part of the Animal Welfare Act for a species with such complex social needs as chimpanzees.
Despite its vital importance, the USDA regulations provide only one brief paragraph of general recommendations:
The physical environment in the primary enclosures must be enriched by providing means of expressing non-injurious species-typical activities. Species differences should be considered when determining the type or methods of enrichment. Examples of environmental enrichment include providing perches, swings, mirrors, and other increased cage complexities; providing objects to manipulate; varied food items; using foraging or task-oriented feeding methods; and providing interaction with the care giver or other familiar and knowledgeable person consistent with personnel safety precautions. (17)
A facility’s interpretation of enrichment could be a single piece of cardboard to manipulate for a chimpanzee who in the wild would be experiencing hours of activity and social interaction each day.
As model sanctuaries have shown, attention to the emotional needs of chimpanzee residents via appropriate enrichment for this highly complex species is a full-time effort—a responsibility that labs have not adequately met.
Labs are not required to provide night nests. The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) gives suggestions for “enrichment” and bedding is not specified. The National Research Council's (NRC), Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (often referred to as ‘the Guide’) mentions nesting materials as a recommendation for animals in general (but the NRC guidelines are not legally binding).
The AWA states under the Environmental Enrichment section:
The physical environment in the primary enclosures must be enriched by providing means of expressing noninjurious species-typical activities. Species differences should be considered when determining the type or methods of enrichment. Examples of environmental enrichments include providing perches, swings, mirrors, and other increased cage complexities; providing objects to manipulate; varied food items; using foraging or task-oriented feeding methods; and providing interaction with the care giver or other familiar and knowledgeable person consistent with personnel safety precautions. (18)
Under the “Cleaning, sanitization, housekeeping & pest control” section:
Dirt floors, floors with absorbent bedding, & planted areas in primary enclosures must be spot-cleaned with sufficient frequency to ensure all animals the freedom to avoid contact with excreta… (19)
And though labs are supposed to make special considerations for great apes weighing over 110 lbs. and for infants, there is still no specific reference to providing night nest materials despite their comfort as an expression of “species-typical activities.” (20)
Environmental enhancement requires that certain nonhuman primates be provided special attention:
- Infants and young juveniles
- Those who show psychological distress (click here for case studies)
- Those used in a protocol with approved restricted activity
- Those individually housed and unable to see and hear their own or compatible species
- Great apes weighing over 110 pounds (21)
These regulations allow facilities to assess for themselves “the needs of the individual species” and for attending veterinarians to determine whether special attention is required. Item #3 allows any special considerations to be circumvented for any chimpanzee if the facility’s researcher, IACUC, and veterinarian determine that meeting such requirements would interfere with the needs of the experiment. (22)
“Exemptions” to the rule
As with other parts of the AWA, facilities have wide discretion over whether to exempt any chimpanzee or other primate from the environmental enhancement plan at: 1) the discretion of a veterinarian or 2) based on the needs of the IACUC approved experiment. (23)
For example, exemptions can be made for “vicious or overly aggressive” individuals who are kept in isolation. (24) Chimpanzees who have been labeled as such are often those for whom captivity and the stress of research have depleted their ability to cope. Such so-called “vicious” and “overly-aggressive” behavior can often be the chimpanzee’s attempt to protect themselves. They are among the very chimpanzees most in need of consideration.
The exemption must be in writing, and unless the basis for the exemption is a permanent condition, must be reviewed by the veterinarian every 30 days. (25) The IACUC committee also has the authority to exempt individual chimpanzees from the enrichment standards if required by the research proposal and to be reviewed “not less than annually.” (26) Facilities must keep records of any exemptions for review by USDA officials upon request. (27)
For more information
- A Quick Reference to the Requirement for Environmental Enhancement for Primates Under the Animal Welfare Act
- “The Failure of Federal Animal Welfare Regulations to Promote the Well-Being of Nonhuman Primates Used in Biomedical Research,” Laboratory Primate Advocacy Group
(1) Public Law 99-198 Food Security Act of 1985, Subtitle F - Animal Welfare.
(2) Federal Register: July 15, 1999 (Volume 64, Number 135) [Proposed Rules] p. 38145-38150.
(3) 9 C.F.R., Chapter 1, Subchapter A - Animal Welfare, Part 3, Section 3.81
(4) USDA, APHIS, Animal Care, USDA Employee Survey on the Effectiveness of IACUC Regulations (USDA, APHIS: Riverdale, Maryland, April, 2000).
(5) 9 CFR, Chapter 1, Subchapter A - Animal Welfare, Part 3, Section 3.81, introductory paragraph
(6) Ibid., 3.81 (a)
(7) USDA, APHIS, Animal Care, USDA Employee Opinions on the Effectiveness of Performance-Based Standards for Animal Care Facilities (USDA, APHIS: Riverdale, Maryland, Dec. 1996).
(8) USDA, APHIS, Animal Welfare Draft Policy on Environmental Enrichment for Nonhuman Primates. Federal Registrar Vol. 164, No. 135. (July 15, 2009).
(9) USDA, APHIS. Environmental Enrichment for Nonhuman Primates Resource Guide, AWIC Resources Series No. 32. (January, 2009).
(10) 9 C.F.R. § Part 3, subpart D, Section 3.76-3.80
(11) 9 C.F.R. § Part 3, subpart D, Section 3, 3.80
(14) 9 C.F.R. § Part 3, Subpart D, Section 3.81
(15) 9 C.F.R. § Part 3, Subpart D, Section 3.81 (a)(1)
(16) 9 C.F.R. § Part 3, Subpart D, Section 3.81 (a)(3)
(17) 9 C.F.R. § Subpart D, Section 3.81(b).
(18) 9 C.F.R.§ 3.81(3)(b)
(19) 9 C.F.R.§ 3.84 (a)
(20) 9 C.F.R.§ 3.81(3)(c)(1-5)
(21) 9. C.F.R. § 3.81 (b)
(22) 9. C.F.R. §3.81 (e)
(23) 9. C.F.R. § 3.81 (e)
(24) 9. C.F.R. § 3.81 (a) (1)
(25) 9. C.F.R. § 3.81 (e) (1)
(26) 9 C.F.R. §3.81(e)(2)
(27) 9 C.F.R. §3.81 (e)(3)