Animal Writes
17 February 1999 Issue

Jerom Chimpanzee

On February 13, 1996 Jerom Chimpanzee died of AIDS at the Yerkes
Regional Primate Research Center, in Atlanta. From the age of two he lived in
biocontainment, interacting with only one or two other chimpanzees, and
rarely catching a glimpse of the sun. He suffered mentally and physically
throughout his battle with AIDS; more chimpanzees, at Yerkes and elsewhere,
have been experimentally infected with the virus which killed Jerom.

I ask you, on the anniversary of the first chimpanzee AIDS death, to give a
moment of thought for these individuals whose lives have been usurped to
fight this war. Why am I asking that you consider mere lab animals?
Because chimpanzees are different from all other lab animals. We all
recognize the paradox of using Great Apes in invasive research. I'm asking
that you take this moment, if you haven't recently considered the implications
of this paradox, to consider that these apes suffer from the isolation of
biocontainment and single housing, and from the rigors of illness and medical
monitoring which often characterize laboratory life. Please give these
chimpanzees at least a brief moment of your time.

If you are in favor of invasive research on chimpanzees, spend this moment
in thanks and gratitude. Consider the supreme sacrifice we require of these
apes. Be grateful for these living test-tubes, and never take for granted
what has been taken from individuals of their species in order that individuals
of our species can live better. Find some way in which to repay them for their

If you are opposed to biomedical studies on chimpanzees, spend this moment
thinking of a way, however seemingly small, in which you can better the lives
of these chimpanzees, and then follow thought with action. Bleak living condi-
tions, isolation, and a routine of needles and medical procedures are not a
pleasant way for a chimpanzee to spend his or her entire life.

I was with Jerom for his last six months. I was his caretaker, his nurse, his
friend, and watched his decline just as I have watched human friends die of
AIDS. My life has been profoundly affected by my work with Jerom and the
other chimpanzees he lived with.

I write for Jerom because I was his witness. He died in a cruel and unusual
manner, and I think that people need to know, in order that research of this
sort can come to a halt.

I write about Jerom because for me he has become a symbol of something
greater, and while I harbor private memories and an endless grief for the
son/brother/patient I lost, I am filled with a sense of disgust which grows and
will not be silent when I hear of the latest cruelties committed in the name of
humanity and in the name of Science. Jerom represents 200 chimpanzees in
biocontainment in HIV studies. He represents the babies taken from mothers'
breasts, poked with needles, and given experimental vaccines. Jerom
represents countless individuals taken from social groups in labs to live alone
in a tiny cage while malaria or hepatitis experiments are performed on their
blood. He represents the quandary of the biomedical researcher, who is some-
where deep inside so conflicted by the immorality of this business that he or
she never once sets eyes on his or her research subject. Now Jerom also
represents the wild chimpanzees who sleep in trees in West Africa, and who
unknowingly face the prospect of being chased, darted, and having blood
drawn in pursuit of SIVcpz - a sort of Holy Grail. And above all else, Jerom
represents the fear, desperation and vanity of the human species, which
refuses to look beyond itself and covets everything in sight for its own ends.

Although the 200 HIV/AIDS project chimpanzees in labs across the US are
never mentioned in the media or on our lists, these individuals do exist, and
no matter which opinion you hold, they deserve a moment of your time, your
sympathy, or your energy. If nothing else, they have earned at least that
much. Twelve of these individuals who live in biocontainment at Yerkes -
Betsie, Joye, Arctica, Jonah, Mark, Roberta, Hallie, Tika and Manual,
Nathan, Sarah and Buster who are living in isolation - await the same fate as
Jerom, who died at the young age of 14, and who never once was allowed the
pleasure of sitting amidst the leaves of a tree.

This tribute is also dedicated to the memory of Denise Shuler, who once
loved a chimpanzee named Ada.

Rachel Weiss

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