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Seeing U.S. Laboratory Chimpanzees For Who They Are

By now, you probably know that the National Institutes of Health last week announced its plans to retire to sanctuaries hundreds of chimpanzees used for research, including invasive biomedical research. The story was big news nationally, including here at NPR, and resulted also in posts by animal advocacy groups such as PETA. (I've also written about our nation's lab chimpanzees before at 13.7, most recently here.)

Even without intending any indifference or casual attitude, it can be natural for us to refer to these primates in the aggregate. I just did that, with my "hundreds of chimpanzees" in the paragraph above.

But these animals are not anonymous lab subjects. Each chimpanzee, those owned by NIH and those available for experimentation elsewhere, is a distinct individual who thinks and feels. Take a look at Lori Gruen's new website "The Last 1000," and read the names. If you can, read them slowly, one by one, and notice the birthdates too. Start with Abby and Abe, and finish with Zoey and Zort. And realize how many of them are still nameless to us.

A green-colored name means that that chimpanzee has already gone to sanctuary. Gruen's goal? A very green website.

Keep up with Barbara on Twitter: @bjkingape

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Barbara J. King is a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture. She is a Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary. With a long-standing research interest in primate behavior and human evolution, King has studied baboon foraging in Kenya and gorilla and bonobo communication at captive facilities in the United States.

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