Relocation of Chimpanzees

BPRC - 1. Relocation of Chimpanzees

Untill 2004 BPRC was the only primate research centre in Europe that had chimpanzees.
These chimpanzees have been used for biomedical research which has, amongst other things, made a vital contribution to the development of vaccines for very serious infectious diseases.

In 2002 the Dutch government asked the Dutch Royal Academy of Science (KNAW) to carry out a review (a scientific audit) of BPRC. In their final report after this review the KNAW state that biomedical research with primates is still essential for public health. They also reported that scientific research at BPRC is of a high quality. They felt, however, that unlike the colonies of Old World and New World monkeys, the colony of chimpanzees at BPRC was not big enough to sustain a long-term scientific research programme. They noted that there were larger colonies in the USA that could be used by researchers in situations where chimpanzee research was critical.

La Vallée de Singes: outdoor facility
La Vallée de Singes: outdoor facility

Based on this report the Dutch government has accepted new laws that makes biomedical research with chimpanzees illegal in the Netherlands. In close consultation with the Dutch government BPRC has stopped all research with chimpanzees in 2004.

The Dutch government has approved plans for the “Stichting AAP”, to receive 28 chimpanzees. These chimpanzees, chronically infected with AIDS or hepatitis virus, have been moved in September 2006 to a Special Care Unit at Stichting AAP in Almere (the Netherlands). “Stichting Aap” was also to receive 32 chimpanzees in Primadomus, a planned specialised facility in Spain. When this initiative fell through, Minister van der Hoeven decided to search for a suitable place among Dutch zoos. This resulted in an agreement with Safaripark Beekse Bergen where new facilities have been built.

These animals, belonging to the West African subspecies (Pan troglodytes verus), will be part of a European breeding programme. This programme has been set up to conserve this endangered subspecies for the future. All remaining chimpanzees (52) have been gradually moved to this location.

Finally in september 2007, the last group chimpanzees left BPRC. The chimpanzee colony was started when the primate centre was still part of the Dutch Organisation for Applied Research (TNO). The founder animals were imported from Sierra Leone and almost all were of the Pan troglodytes verus subspecies. Importantly, this subspecies has been kept almost pure within the colony. The chimpanzees at BPRC have also been genetically characterised. These facts make these chimpanzees very valuable for the European breeding programme, which aims at the conservation of this subspecies. On the 20th of march 2008 safaripark “de Beekse Bergen” announced the birth of chimpanzee Stephan.

Odense Zoo (outdoor facility)
Odense Zoo (outdoor facility)
Monde Sauvage (outdoor facility)
Monde Sauvage (outdoor facility)

The chimpanzees bred successfully at BPRC, and as a result the colony grew to number more than 100 individuals. As the breeding success resulted in BPRC having more chimpanzees than the facilities could house, the BPRC initiated a programme of outplacement of chimpanzees to responsible zoos and safari parks.

As described elsewhere this subspecies of chimpanzee is under threat in the wild. The fact that the BPRC animals are all socially housed in large (family) groups, the fact that they are a pure subspecies and the fact that the animals are in good physical and mental condition has meant that these chimpanzees have been highly sought after by zoos and parks participating in the European breeding programme.

At the start of the outplacement process BPRC formulated a number of conditions to be met before a zoo or park could be considered as a possible recipient of a group of BPRC chimpanzees:

  • The housing conditions must be substantially better than at the BPRC.
  • The animals must not be subjected to invasive research in the future.
  • The social structure of the group must be maintained as far as reasonably possible.
  • The recipient institute must have proven experience and expertise.
  • The recipient is preferably a participant in the European breeding programme.
  • The relocation must not be to the detriment of chimpanzees that are already present at the recipient institute.

Since 1999, as part of the ongoing programme, BPRC has relocated a total of 130 chimpanzees to institutions fulfilling these requirements:

Leipzig Zoo: indoor facility
Leipzig Zoo: indoor facility

(Article image: Robert, Leipzig Zoo, photo: M. Seres)