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Matthew Kinsella

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Given that chimpanzees are endangered, is it ethical to use them in biomedical research?

Chimpanzees are distributed throughout Equatorial Africa, occurring from southern Senegal across the forested belt north of the Congo River to western Uganda and western Tanzania. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, current estimates for the wild population range from 150,000 to 250,000 individuals. The largest populations of chimpanzees occur in central Africa, mainly Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Cameroon. Sadly the populations that once habituated Gambia, Burkina Faso, Benin, or Togo are no longer found.

One of the greatest threats to the long-term survival of chimpanzees and other great apes is habitat loss. Between 2000 and 2010 Africa lost over 3 million hectares of its forests. Much of this loss occurred within the chimpanzee range, including the equatorial forest belt. In 2007, the International Union of Conservation of Nature’s classification of chimpanzees satisfied the criteria for ranking as Endangered based on a projected future rate of decline of 50% in three generations (from 1970-2030).

On top of facing habitat loss by logging operations, illegal hunting, and disease, chimpanzees have to worry about being captured for use in biomedical research. Luckily the demand for chimpanzees has been diminishing because many scientists agree that they are no longer necessary for understanding most diseases today. Either they simply don’t prove useful or better alternatives exist. However one exception remains, Hepatitis C (spread by blood-to-blood contact). Today, an estimated 4 million people are infected by Hepatitis C in the United States, and at least 130 million worldwide. Around 350,000 people around the world die from Hepatitis C-induced liver failure each year. There is still no vaccine, and chimpanzees are the only known non-human animals capable of being infected by the virus. No other animal models exist.

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    May 10 2012: Think of a world where the only chimps known to man are those in the pages of a book. If we no longer view them as an important tool in research of human disease dont you feel that eventually hunting for their pelts and meat will get out of control?
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      May 10 2012: Interesting, supporting the research and usage of the endangered species will save the species. Never thought of it that way.....sounds a bit counter productive, but that sounds like a valid point worth pondering about.
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      May 10 2012: I think this is a very interesting way to look at it also. After a little pondering on the idea I came up with the fact that those who currently hunt the chimpanzees for their pelts and meat probably don't care too much about the chimpanzees importance in research. It isn't very common, at least here obviously, to hear about research being done on chimpanzees so I feel as if it stopped than we still wouldn't really know. On that note the majority are bred in captivity, I assume so they don't really affect the other populations.

      So what I mean to say is that I think those who hunt chimpanzees don't care about the fact that they are useful in research and so if we stopped using them than hunting would stay the same and not get too out of control. This is an interesting idea and I'm glad you brought it up. It will be interesting to see how it turns out.

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