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A Royal Visit with Negra, Queen of the Chimpanzees

Negra

It’s a long journey from Africa to Cle Elum, Wash. It was certainly a grueling trip for Negra, a 36-year-old chimpanzee who had many traumatic experiences along the way. But in Cle Elum, she found a place that—in spirit—is close to home. Last month, at the Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, PCRM scientists met Negra as they continued their observation of the long-lasting psychological damage to chimpanzees previously used in laboratories.

PCRM primatologist Debra Durham, Ph.D., and PCRM’s director of research policy Hope Ferdowsian, M.D., M.P.H., will present Negra’s case study, “A Novel Approach for the Assessment of Psychological Suffering Among Animals: Chimpanzee Case Study,” in Rome this week to an international audience at the Seventh World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences.

Before last June, Negra, who was born in the wild in Africa, lived in a laboratory where she was used in hepatitis vaccine experiments and for breeding. For decades, she was subjected to numerous invasive procedures. And because of a clerical error, during part of her time at the laboratory, Negra was kept in solitary confinement for approximately two years.

Early surveys completed by Negra’s caregivers revealed a range of psychological symptoms. According to survey reports, she has demonstrated limited interest in fellow chimpanzee residents. Caregivers reported that she often assumed a depressed, hunched posture and covered her head with a blanket.

Compared with other chimpanzees, she was described as socially withdrawn, often retreating to places where she could be alone. She was also reported to sleep excessively, compared with other chimpanzees.

But recent follow-up surveys suggest that Negra is exhibiting fewer symptoms and has become closer to caregivers and other chimpanzees. The sanctuary says that she is a strong individual with a unique personality and has called her “the queen of the Cle Elum Seven chimpanzees.” Negra is one of seven chimpanzees, including Annie, Burrito, Foxie, Jamie, Jody, and Missy, who are the first residents of the sanctuary.

Based on pilot data, Drs. Ferdowsian and Durham have found that chimpanzees like Negra have a high prevalence of symptoms of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other anxiety disorders, much like human victims of traumatic experiences. The study’s findings underscore the failure of existing animal welfare regulations to prevent psychological suffering in chimpanzees used in laboratories.

PCRM’s research is especially timely as Congress prepares to consider the Great Ape Protection Act, which would end invasive research on the chimpanzees remaining in laboratories—and release federally owned chimpanzees to permanent sanctuaries.

Visit PCRM’s Great Ape Protection Act Web page to urge your U.S. representative to co-sponsor the act.



Hope Ferdowsian, M.D., M.P.H.
Hope Ferdowsian, M.D., M.P.H.

PCRM Online, September 2009
 
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