Cantwell calling for primate protection from experiments

By:  Michelle Esteban
Source: KOMO News

CLE ELUM, Wash. -- If Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., gets her way, it will be illegal to use the animals for invasive experiments.

The senator says the U.S. is the only country still using chimps for medical research. She wants to outlaw the use of all great apes, including chimps, in experiments.

The Northwest Chimps Sanctuary in Cle Elum is home to seven chimps who were once subject to such research.

These days, the animals are at ease, fun and confident. But when they'd just arrived in 2008, they were tentative, insecure and guarded.

Back then, Foxy refused to engage in any way, but the chimp has been completely transformed since.

"She has become this silly, happy, joyful goof," said executive director Sarah Baeckler.

But it's a chimp named Jamie who has made the biggest transformation. Two years ago, she came to the sanctuary practically hairless.

"Her belly was barren. Looked like she had been waxed. (She had) plucked hair out of boredom," said Baeckler.

But Jamie has stopped pulling her hair out since. She's has become the problem solver and the leader of the pack.

"They experience pain, fear and joy, just like we do. There is just no excuse to use them," said the executive director.

"These are traumatic. (They're) often knocked-down, using dart gun-given pathogens, disease and given other experimental treatment. And they suffer as a result," said primatologist Dr. Debra Durham.

Durham says some chimps can undergo 100 biopsies in their lifetime, and U.S. law permits them to be housed in a space no bigger than a kitchen table.

The Northwest Chimpanzee Sanctuary says it's not just about rescuing them from a lab, but giving them a life.

"We have seen a remarkable transformation in every one of them," said Baeckler.

If passed, Cantwell's measure would phase out the use of chimps over a three-year period, and require permanent retirement sanctuaries. There are about one thousand chimps living in captivity across the country.