The lives of chimpanzees in biomedical research have changed a lot – for the better – in recent years. Although hundreds of chimpanzees continue to live in laboratories owned or supported by the US government, federally-funded invasive biomedical research has been dwindling in recent years and is slated to be phased-out. [1] While housing conditions have likely improved for many chimps who are still awaiting sanctuary, we believe that those who continue to be used for invasive research protocols may still be living in the prison-like conditions described below. Further, living in restrictive conditions and subjected to the psychological traumas associated with research and laboratory conditions have been shown to have taken a toll on the bodies and minds of former research subjects, even long after they’ve reached sanctuary. [2] Accordingly, we have included the description of indoor housing as a reminder of where many of our chimpanzee friends came from and the scars they still carry.

Little is known about the chimpanzees living in private labs. If you have information about chimps living in private labs, please contact Rachel Weiss (rachel at

Indoor housing


Individuals, including infants, juveniles and adults can be housed singly if the research protocol that they are on requires it. Individuals under 55 pounds can be housed in cages smaller than 5x5x7 feet. It is common for adults to be taken from their social groups for a study, and put into isolation cages called metabolism (‘met’) cages with industrial-strength squeeze backs. They may remain there for the duration of the study, which can be for weeks or months.

According to federal regulations, the legally required cage size for an adult chimpanzee is 5x5x7 feet, with 25 square feet of floor space. [3] If two chimpanzees live together, they must have an enclosure double this size. The law does not require that chimpanzees be housed socially if justification is provided, nor does it require that the chimps have access to the outdoors. Like monkeys, the reality of laboratory caging for chimpanzees runs the gamut from the minimum requirements, to corrals that exceed the minimum standards. 300inside

Chimpanzees in groups of two or more spend their days with the same cell-mates, waiting for humans to bring food, hoses, enrichment, dart guns or syringes (full of Ketamine or Telozol). The indoor cells may or may not be attached to an outdoor area. Both are typically made of steel and concrete, designed for ease of cleaning and access to the chimpanzees. A weighted, human-controlled door between the two allows humans to decide when the chimpanzees can move in or out.


Outdoor housing

corralchimpsLuckier chimpanzees live in compounds with larger social groups. Despite the less-restrictive environment, individuals still live at the whim of human caretakers who decide group composition (including the separation of family members and long-time friends), biomedical and behavioral research protocols, diet, entertainment, and the day-to-day routine. Chimpanzees in compounds were often used for breeding, a practice which was permanently ended by the federal government in 2007. [4]

Invasive and infectious disease research

ratmarChimpanzees on invasive protocols, such as HIV vaccine studies, live in biocontainment. Interpretations of biocontainment can vary between laboratories: some provide no outdoor access and tiny (if any) social groups of infected individuals; others provide outdoor enclosures, but limit human access to the area.

Cage cleaning

Many of the chimpanzee cage and enclosure cleaning and husbandry procedures are similar to monkey husbandry procedures, but on a much larger scale. Steel mesh and concrete walls and ceilings must be cleaned daily, from top to bottom, because caged chimpanzees are messy creatures. Some even ‘paint’ with feces on the walls of their enclosures; a behavior related to boredom, deprivation of stimulation (intellectual, emotional, social), and other harsh conditions in labs. This behavior is seen in humans in institutional settings as well. Often, during cage cleaning, chimps will hang from the ceiling or wall to escape the stream of water. Some refuse to move, or block the spray with their bodies. Others demand drinks from the hose. In cages made from concrete or from steel bars, surfaces remain wet long after the care-tech has finished his/her work.

Often, chimpanzee cages are not portable as are cages for monkeys, so care-techs are required to sanitize cages (by entering them and either scrubbing with brushes or using a high-powered pressure washer) at least once every two weeks. Chimpanzees are shifted to adjacent cells for these procedures.

A typical day in the life of a laboratory chimp

The daily routine of chimpanzees in the laboratory is much the same as that for monkeys. After cage washing and feeding, days are spent using enrichment, interacting with cage-mates, and waiting. Waiting can run the gamut from extreme boredom to apprehension as a chimp awaits the next procedure.

Individuals may be separated from group members for a brief period of time to take part in a behavioral research project, or to be a training subject. Operant conditioning, or behavioral training using established signals and positive reinforcement, is very popular in the labs these days; individuals are taught to present body parts for inspection or injection, to enter a transfer box, and other tricks. Care- or enrichment-techs may visit for a play session or to deliver treats. Other chimpanzees may be removed from their social group and placed in an isolation cage in preparation for their use in a biomedical procedure.


[1] NIH Research Involving Chimpanzees. Notice No. NOT-OD-12-025. December 21, 2011.

[2] Capaldo T and Peppercorn M [2012]. A review of autopsy reports on chimpanzees in or from US laboratories. ATLA 40:259-269; Bradshaw GA, Capaldo T, Lindner L, Grow G [2008]. Building an inner sanctuary: complex PTSD in chimpanzees. Journal of Trauma and Dissociation 9(1):9-34.

[3] 9 CFR § 3.80.

[4] The NIH stopped supporting the breeding of chimpanzees in 1995, when a temporary moratorium was established, and announced a permanent moratorium in 2007. See Weir K. NIH stops chimp breeding. The Scientist Magazine June 5, 2007.