FORT PIERCE, Fla. - The U.S National Institutes of Health announced Wednesday that it is planning to reduce the number of chimpanzees that it uses for biomedical research, letting most retire and live in sanctuaries.
Nearly 300 will retire, while only 50 will be kept for research.
For more than ten years, Save the Chimps, in Fort Pierce, has helped hundreds of research chimpanzees get out of cages and have healthy lives. Now the group looks forward to the chance of welcoming more to the sanctuary.
Jen Feuerstein, Sanctuary director, says bringing the chimpanzees to the sanctuary is a rewarding experience.
"This is the most amazing work I can imagine doing. I'm so lucky," Feuerstein said.
Chimpanzees are not caged, and left with acres of room to roam. The sanctuary is broken into numerous islands for the animals.
"To give them this opportunity to live with other chimpanzees, and to have space to run and to climb, which is such a far cry from what they knew before, is really incredible, " said Feuerstein.
A majority of the chimpanzees came from medical research labs. Feuerstein also used to work in a lab.
"I started working there supporting the use of animals in research and I left not supporting it any longer," he said.
One chimpanzee at the sanctuary, Sevvy, was tested at a lab in Georgia for most of his life. He was given hepatitis tests.
"He loves the island. The sad thing is that he does injure himself at times." Feuerstein says that's a result of 8 years of confinement to a 5X7 cage. He never saw sunlight.
"It terrifies the chimps. They're terrified, they scream, they get upset," said Feuerstein.
Feuerstein says she's thrilled to see more chimps have the chance of living with more freedom. "It's really great news for the hundreds of chimpanzees who are still left in laboratories."
Save the Chimps plans to expand to make more room for more chimpanzees, hoping to raise money to build at least one or two more islands.
"It's best to do better science without chimpanzees," he said.
It's unknown how many would be sent to Fort Pierce, but Feuerstein says they hope to make arrangements to take up to 50.
Click here for information on donations for the expansion.