Guinea pigs no more. The last hundred chimps used in European research are to retire.

Dutch End Chimp Studies

The only chimpanzee research facility in Europe is to shut down. On 27 April, the Dutch government announced it would follow the advice of an expert panel, by ending research on the chimpanzees at the Biomedical Primate Research Center (BPRC) in Rijswijk, the Netherlands. Some of the chimpanzees will go to zoos, but those who carry viruses such as hepatitis C or HIV will need special containment facilities. There is no timetable yet for stopping the few ongoing experiments.

Animal welfare groups have criticized the BPRC for its cramped cages and outdated facilities. The center was the target of a recently formed coalition, backed by primatologist Jane Goodall and filmmaker David Attenborough, to end all experiments on chimpanzees in Europe.

Last week, a committee of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences headed by cancer researcher Anton Berns of the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam concluded that the chimp colony was unnecessary and recommended that the animals there be retired to zoos or sanctuaries. "The [BPRC] facilities are not really up to the current standards," Berns says. More than 100 chimpanzees live at the facility, but only seven were used for experiments in 1999. The panel said that research for which chimpanzees are needed, such as hepatitis C vaccine studies, could be carried out in the United States. In addition, much of the chimpanzee research was sponsored by industry, and the chimps "were not very accessible to academic researchers," Berns says. But the panel said other research at the BPRC--which also houses 1000 rhesus monkeys--should continue.

The BPRC is a private organization, but the Dutch science ministry supplies about $2 million in funds each year and has promised about $6 million to renovate the facility and improve living conditions for the remaining animals. The ministry spokesperson says another expert panel will recommend how best to use that money.