The suffering of chimpanzees in laboratories begins with confinement. In the wild, chimpanzees roam 1-6 miles on any given day. They choose what they eat. They act of their own free will. They engage in rich social interactions and behaviors.
Confined for research, chimpanzees typically live in small groups or pairs in cramped concrete pens or indoor/outdoor runs, or alone in a 5′ x 5′ x 7′ cage allowable by federal law. However many adult chimpanzees, such as those now living in sanctuary at the Fauna Foundation, actually lived in 5′ x 5′ x 6′ cages, while the younger chimpanzees were confined to even smaller cages originally designed for monkeys and baboons.
In the cage size allowed by law, a large male chimpanzee can barely stretch out vertically, much less brachiate (swing from one hold to another)—a natural behavior. Some chimpanzees have lived their entire lives in these cages with no outdoor access or windows for fresh air or sunshine. Others are housed in these small cages while in a protocol since it gives easier “access” to them. This confinement can go on for decades. (Currently only a few facilities have indoor/outdoor enclosures for bigger groups for a limited number of their residents.)
These cages can also be used to house chimpanzees when they are ill to make medical treatment easier. However, this practice is extremely stressful for those who are accustomed to living with others.
Animal Welfare guidelines allow for single housing as long as a chimpanzee can see and hear other chimpanzees or a compatible species. This guideline can be exempted by the supervising veterinarian. As part of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) acceptance of Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommendations in 2013, the agency agreed that federally owned and supported chimpanzees should have the opportunity to live in groups of 7 chimpanzees or more. This new criterion does not apply to privately owned chimpanzees.
In laboratory cages, chimpanzees sleep on metal bars, concrete floors, or hard shelf surfaces deprived of adequate bedding materials for nest building—a nightly ritual for free-living chimpanzees. Although the NIH agreed with IOM recommendations to provide chimpanzees with year-round access to natural substrates and the outdoors, the decision does not prevent laboratories from also maintaining indoor housing that uses synthetic materials and structures.
Even once released into sanctuary, the years of confinement and trauma leave the majority of chimpanzees suffering from some degree of traumatic stress disorder, depression or other psychological problems which require rehabilitation and time to heal. Some never do.