Monday, October 25, 2004


Research chimps are in lap of luxury

SAN ANTONIO -- The soaring 29-foot domed ceilings, bathed in natural light, rival anything Club Med has to offer.

Interior furnishings and trappings are equally luxurious -- if you're a chimpanzee, that is.

There are climbing bars and poles, tire and rope swings and sunbathing platforms. The help visits several times a day, bringing crunchy biscuits, seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables. And there is stimulating entertainment -- faux termite nests jammed with honey.

Welcome to the new chimp village at Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research. This is where research chimpanzees -- humans' closest animal relatives -- will be able to live in social groups and spacious housing when they are not actively part of a biomedical study.

"The best enrichment for any primate is another primate," said Suzette Tardif, associate director of the Southwest National Primate Research Center, which is at the foundation on Loop 410. "The best situation is to get as many of your animals in social housing as possible."

The foundation has about 220 chimps, which are used in studies when scientists need close genetic relatives of humans. But some chimps go years between studies. So three years ago, the primate center got a $2 million federal grant for special group housing for these animals.

Genetically speaking, chimps and other apes are nearly identical to humans, and their continued use in medical research remains an emotional topic. Though chimp use has diminished over the years, scientists maintain that some studies could not be done without them.

Foundation chimps have been used to develop and test vaccines for hepatitis A and B and now are used in ongoing inquiries into hepatitis C and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS....

Club Med? Hardly! I wonder if this "fair and balanced" reporter would like to spend her vacation in one of these most excellent cages before returning for another round of vivisection? Ask her: Saying that the research "could not be done without them" (a questionable premise itself, although she does not question it) begs the question of whether it is ethical to experiment at all on beings so like us. Letters to the editor: