Photo: © Michael Nichols from the book, Brutal Kinship (Aperture Foundation)

In 1997, the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research (ILAR) published a report regarding a formal admission by the NIH of a chimpanzee “surplus.”

Entitled “Chimpanzees in Research: Strategies for their Ethical Care, Management and Use,”1 the report concluded that there is a “moral responsibility” for the long-term care of chimpanzees used in scientific research. The findings acknowledged the widespread public and government support for the creation of a “sanctuary” system.

The ILAR report became the basis for the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance, and Protection Act (CHIMP Act)2, which was signed into law by President Clinton on December 20, 2000. The law created a federally supported system to “provide for the lifetime care of chimpanzees that [sic] have been used, or were bred or purchased for use in research conducted or supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, or other agencies of the Federal Government.”3

The CHIMP Act’s advances

  • Prohibited euthanasia of chimpanzees except for humane health reasons during an intractable illness: No chimpanzee can be killed simply because they are no longer of “use,” the facility of overpopulated, or they are too costly to maintain. It is the first law to prohibit killing of a nonhuman species for the convenience of the lab.
  • Established a federally funded “retirement” system for chimpanzees no longer needed for research: Chimp Haven.
  • Required that the government take responsibility for at least the partial cost of lifetime care for a former research subject outside of the laboratory setting: The law provides for 90% federal funding to establish and 75% federal funding to maintain “retirement” facilities.

The CHIMP Act’s limitations

  • No objective criteria for which chimpanzees should be considered for retirement
  • Total lab discretion as to when a chimpanzee is considered for retirement
  • Under certain circumstances a “retired” chimpanzee could be returned to research

The CHIMP Act could retire hundreds of chimpanzees from research immediately by authorizing sending chimpanzees to sanctuary who are considered “not needed.” But “not needed” has never been defined. NEAVS submitted a Rulemaking Petition to hold the government accountable. Find out more.

The CHIMP Act amendment

  • In December 2007, the "Chimp Haven is Home Act" amendment was signed into law. It prohibited returning chimpanzees to research once they are retired into federal sanctuary (chimpanzees in privately funded sanctuaries always had this protection). Prior to this amendment, the CHIMP Act allowed chimpanzees in federal sanctuary to be called back into research even though by the time they would have been “retired,” they would have been deemed "of no use." Most, if not all, would not have been considered suitable to return to research. Nevertheless, the passage of this amendment, guaranteeing permanent sanctuary, reinforces a moral commitment to chimpanzees by the U.S. government.
  • In November 2013, the Chimp Act Amendments of 2013 removed a $30 million spending cap originally appropriated in the 2000 CHIMP Act. (Though this amendment appeared to only apply to chimpanzees in sanctuaries, the language of the amendment allows for the additional funds to apply to any and all chimpanzees. Therefore, these funds would apply to chimpanzees currently housed in labs and allow them to remain.)

Passage of the CHIMP Act and its amendments constituted a precedent-setting admission that chimpanzees have an ethical status not previously granted to any species other than humans, a crucial step toward ending research on all chimpanzees. 


(1) ILAR, National Research Council, Chimpanzees in Research: Strategies for their Ethical Care, Management and Use (National Academy Press, Washington DC, 1997).
(2) 42 U.S.C. § 287a-3a (2000).
(3) 42 U.S.C. § 287a-3a(a).

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