Chimpanzees, humans' closest relatives, will soon be freed from U.S. laboratories and finally escape from the perils of experimentation and testing.

The National Institutes of Health declared on Monday, Nov. 16, that it is retiring the last batch of chimps intended for medical research purposes. The agency will formulate a plan to eliminate assistance for the 50 remaining lab animals, being supported but not owned by NIH.

NIH director Francis Collins explained that it is but natural to make the decision as part of the five-year process of weighing down the benefits and risks of attempting to conduct research with the animals.

In 2013, the government first declared that it will halt the use of chimps as research subjects and that it will retire majority of the hundreds of animals still settling in laboratories. The plan pushed through; however, NIH deliberately put 50 chimps on hold to facilitate possible future researches that may warrant emergency and critical significance.

Since the "standby" chimps were arranged, NIH received only one application to use the chimps for research, and it was also withdrawn later.

Now, NIH said that freedom will also be bestowed upon these remaining animals.

At present, approximately 300 chimpanzees are living in Chimp Haven, which is a Louisiana sanctuary, approved by the federal government. The remaining 50 chimps will soon move in after ample space has been arranged.

The decision of the NIH garnered mixed reactions from animal welfare group members and research advocates.

Animal help groups said they are pleased with the decision and said that they will help find a space for sanctuary. "We are overjoyed by this decision," said Kathleen Conlee of the Humane Society of the United States.

Meanwhile, people in the research field were baffled with the sudden announcement. They said that it may be appropriate to keep reserve chimp subjects in the event that a new pathogen emerges. President of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, Frankie Trull even questioned if the decision was truly made for public health interest. "I don't understand the decision of 'we're going to take that resource away forever'," she said.

Chimpanzees have been used in developing essential medicines and providing relevant information that paved the way for astronauts to reach space. In the recent years, however, science has already become so advanced that it has come to a point that research involving the animals cannot be justified anymore.

Photo: Aaron Logan | Flickr

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