By Rachel Weiss -
Jerom Chimpanzee should have been twenty years old this
month. Had he lived the life of his ancestors, he might be dwelling in a
riverine forest, making knowledgable decisions about where to spend his
time - in a fig tree overlooking the savanna, chasing red-tailed monkeys
through the canopy, following a friend off into the undergrowth. He
might have developed into a proud and handsome individual, carrying 130
lbs. on his tall frame, his jet-black hair and dark face giving him a
secretive look. He might have populated a forest with his offspring,
ensuring the future of wild chimpanzees.
Jerom never lived this life - he was created for humans,
so that we may pursue our unattainable goal of living without disease.
Although intelligent and often full of opinions, such individuals are
not consulted before their lives are stolen from them for use in
Jerom lived until nearly the age of fourteen at the
Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center, a federally-funded laboratory
in Atlanta, Georgia. He was taken from his mother when he was an infant,
raised as if an orphan, and experimentally infected with HIV at the age
of two. When I met him eleven years later he was alone and dying.
Instead of a proud figure, he was lean and gaunt, his hair dull, his
skin pale, his eyes sunken from wasting and bright with fear and fever.
He was distrustful of humans, unsure of himself, and frustrated at his
lot in life. He suffered in almost every way a caged chimpanzee can
suffer, and then he died. To the people who created him, his only value
was the data that came from his blood. To me, everything about Jerom was
If Jerom was alive today, it is likely that he would
still be living alone, in sight of other chimpanzees he'd never again be
able to touch. If he was twenty, he would have spent the last eighteen
years indoors, without even once in that time feeling a cool breeze or
warm sun on his face. In eighteen years he would have spent every single
day in a wet concrete cell, his only entertainment provided periodically
by a human, in the form of a small plastic toy, shreddable box or
newspaper, or maybe a cartoon on television. He would have spent the
last eighteen years eating only what humans decided he would eat, and
only when they decided - no matter what he really wanted or liked, no
matter when he was hungry.
Jerom died six years ago, February 13th, and no longer
has to endure such treatment - conditions determined by lawmakers and
researchers to be "humane" and codified by the Animal Welfare Act, but
known to be barbaric and cruel by many of us who have been there (for
more information, visit www.lpag.org). Jerom may be lucky - ten of his
fellow research subjects are right now continuing to live this life at
Yerkes. Two of them - Buster and Nathan - are caged alone as was Jerom,
and have been for years. For years. Imagine it - hundreds upon hundreds
of days without the touch of another save a latex-and-tyvek garbed human
once in a while, and then only at the whim of the human. The other eight
live in pairs and trios, but suffer the same conditions of confinement
Buster and Nate are both a bit older than Jerom would
have been now. The reasons for their social deprivation are unknown.
Neither are known to have developed clinical symptoms of AIDS, so it's
likely they're not alone for health reasons. Maybe it's inconvenient for
Yerkes to give them the social outlets they no doubt crave.
Every year I tell this tale to move your heart. If you
are reading this because you are a part of the struggle for the
independence of biomedical research subjects, fight on - they need you
If you are reading this and remain unmoved, permit me to
try a different tack: in the nearly twenty years that chimpanzees have
been used as biomedical research subjects for HIV prevention and
vaccines, no successful drugs, vaccines, insights or any other advances
have been discovered or created as a result of the chimpanzee studies.
With the possible exception of Jerom, chimpanzees do not develop AIDS;
the virus acts very differently in the chimpanzee immune system than in
the human. If you can't care about the chimpanzees, consider the money
wasted on them - money that could be spent actually helping humans.
Millions of dollars every year are spent on their upkeep alone, not to
mention the wasted research dollars, wasted time, and wasted energy.
Don't just take my word for it. Groups of medical
doctors around the world have joined together to protest not the
inhumane conditions of laboratory life, but the faulty scientific
premises underlying biomedical research. Not just the chimpanzee work,
but studies on tens of thousands of monkeys, dogs, rabbits and other
nonhumans as well. You should be concerned - every one of these
individuals suffers for your medical needs, and is directly affected by
the products you consume, and the tax dollars you spend. Your funding
supports a system that is cumbersome and archaic, and produces
negligible results at best. Advances in technology combined with
epidemiological and clinical human studies have been shown to produce
far better and more applicable results for humans.
Take this economic and medical concern, and add to it
the ethical dimensions of what I'm telling you. 200 AIDS chimpanzees
languish in biocontainment cells - some large, some small, all
artificial and restrictive - around the US. Over 1500 more chimpanzees
used to study gout, hepatitis, malaria, reproduction, and other human
conditions, and others not being studied at all, may have a bit more
space and possibly a chance to smell fresh air, but live similarly
deprived lives in laboratories here and around the world. Every one of
them has a face, a name, a personality. Every one has been enslaved
because humans decided that this injustice is justified.
The CHIMP (Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance
and Protection) Act, which was enacted last year to provide alternatives
to laboratory housing, may improve the lives of some of these
individuals in the coming years by removing them from the laboratories
and giving them larger areas with larger social groups. But the CHIMP
Act is not enough - in order to remedy the wrongs, research on
chimpanzees must stop, and reproduction must be halted. The recent
deaths of Pablo and Annie Chimpanzee, beloved residents of the Fauna
Foundation, Canada's only chimp sanctuary, prove that it's not enough to
get them out. Pablo and Annie were not old individuals, yet four years
of unconditional love and respect in sanctuary were no match for the
decades they spent in research. Most striking about their autopsies were
the massive adhesions tying their organs together, caused by years of
being darted, the preferred laboratory method of sedating chimpanzees.
No amount of love, space or choice could have undone that trauma.
Giving laboratory chimpanzees larger cells with access
to the outdoors, social groups, food choices, and alternatives to
darting is a step but is not enough, and is not what they deserve: they
deserve respect - they deserve to not live in service to humans. The one
thing they can never have in captivity is complete freedom of choice,
the one thing that defines a truly free people. And they are people -
not humans, but people - and we are doing not only them, but ourselves a
grave disservice by treating these people as if they were born to serve
us, and not to live the dignified lives of which they are capable. Their
lives, although research claims them, belong to nobody but themselves,
and what they need more than anything is to be treated accordingly.
Research claimed far too many of them this year, and all
of them at an age much younger than their life expectancy:
- Manual: Yerkes inmate, HIV+, Jerom's sometime-friend died of unknown
causes on April 17, 2001, age 22;
- Sonia: Yerkes inmate, died off organ failure in a small cage and
her family, June 5, 2001, age 42;
- Gina: Coulston Foundation (Neew Mexico laboratory) inmate, died of
exposure to sun and heat while locked outside, June 5, 2001, age 12;
- Sellers: Yerkes inmate, died accidentally of strangulation while on a
gout study, unsupervised and alone in a tiny cage, June 11, 2001, age
- Pablo: Fauna Foundation residdent, died of excess internal scar tissue
and all-around poor health, October 6, 2001, age 31;
- Annie: Fauna Foundation residdent and matriarch, died of gangrene of
intestine and all-around poor health, January 10, 2002, age 42;
- Koen: BPRC (Dutch laboratory)) inmate, HIV+, died of unknown causes,
January 29, 2002, age 28.
These are just the individuals with human friends who
cared enough to tell their stories. Without doubt there are many others.
In memory of all of them, and with grief for the two babies who were
recently taken from their mothers at the Coulston Foundation to be sold
into the entertainment industry so that we may laugh at television
commercials, and on behalf of the remaining AIDS Project chimpanzees at
Yerkes - Buster, Nathan, Arctica, Joye, Betsie, Jonah, Marc, Roberta,
Tika and Hallie - I ask you to remember them, and remember Jerom.
Please write to Yerkes' Director Stuart Zola:
954 Gatewood Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
Tell him you care, and that you'd like an explanation
for the treatment of these individuals.
13 February, 2002
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