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People prevail as NM chimps set to be freed

You probably hear often, “Your opinion counts!”, “Your voice matters!” But just how many of us write off those declarations, believing their efforts are a waste of time?

This month’s announcement by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that the agency is forever ending invasive research on chimps and will no longer keep chimps in labs shows that people’s voices do matter.

To everyone, including the thousands of people who rallied for years with Animal Protection of New Mexico to make calls, send emails, write letters, and otherwise act to end the wasteful and cruel system of keeping chimps in vivisection labs: Thank you for believing that you could make a difference.

At last, we can see a not-too-distant future where Rosie, a New Mexico chimpanzee currently held at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, will experience the peace and dignity of sanctuary. Rosie was featured in the Nov. 19 front-page Albuquerque Journal story “NIH to retire last colony of research chimps” and I wrote about her in an op-ed published in June with the headline: “20 NM chimps stuck in a Texas lab must be freed.”

After many long, hard years, Rosie’s future is now looking brighter.

Rosie and the other 20 New Mexico chimps held in Texas will be the first of about 700 chimpanzees from labs moved to sanctuary.

I’ve heard plenty of people say our work was doomed to fail. Why should anyone care about sick, elderly chimps in this world of too many intractable problems? And many chimps and some of our human supporters did die while the struggle continued.

But there were rays of light.

In 2013, NIH Director Francis Collins stated “the vast majority” of government-owned chimps in labs would be retired to sanctuary and the agency implemented strict new criteria for anyone wishing to use government dollars to research with chimps.

The new criteria followed a 2011 Institute of Medicine study that concluded chimpanzees are unnecessary for research benefiting human health. Though we are cousins, many diseases simply do not affect them the same way they impact us.

At least 26 chimpanzees were shipped from New Mexico to the Texas institute prior to 2011. Taxpayers continue to pay 100 percent of that lab’s costs for the care of the 20 New Mexico chimps still alive there today.

This situation happened under the cloak of darkness. Originally, the lab said they needed to keep the chimps for potential use in biomedical testing. Now, these chimpanzees will be among the first to be freed.

Advocacy is at times grueling, filled with terrible, pointless suffering of both human and non-human animals. It’s rare and precious when years of hard work pay off in a resounding victory and a more hopeful path forward.

New Mexicans can savor the changes coming from within NIH and give thanks to all the people, especially our U.S. senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, who helped end this cycle of exploitation and abuse.

Let’s celebrate and give thanks for hope and compassion in action! While there is always more work ahead – and we will ramp up efforts to get all the surviving chimps to sanctuary – taking time to acknowledge and appreciate our caring actions and the caring actions of others is also the right thing to do.

Soon, Rosie and her chimp colleagues will also be celebrating. In sanctuary, they will get to experience what it means to live instead of just survive.

Even though she couldn’t grow up with a chimp family, Rosie can now grow old with one.

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