January 07, 2016 Articles

Protecting Chimpanzees Through Pro Bono Work

This important work allows lawyers to solve complex legal problems while protecting and rescuing chimpanzees from a lifetime of exploitation and imprisonment.

By Katelyn E. Keegan

Pro bono work offers substantial opportunities to protect and improve animal lives through the law. While a majority of the pro bono work done on behalf of animals is litigation-based, the Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest (CSNW), in Cle Elum, Washington, illustrates the multifaceted, multi-practice legal needs of animal rights organizations. Founded in 2003, CSNW is only one of a few sanctuaries in the country that provides permanent lifetime care for chimpanzees. Pro bono work has played an important role in the long-term health and welfare of CSNW’s residents.

Chimpanzees are our closest living “relatives.” Human and chimpanzee genetic makeup is roughly 99 percent the same, and chimpanzees in captivity can live almost 60 years. That 1 percent difference in DNA, however, has meant that humans have used chimpanzees in a variety of ways for years—as unwilling subjects of decades of invasive biomedical experimentation and behavioral research; as physically and psychologically abused “actors” in film, television, and public exhibitions; and even as pets. But it is a scientific certainty that chimpanzees are highly intelligent animals that experience the same range of emotions as we do and that they suffer from the same kinds of stresses that we do. In the case of captive chimpanzees, some of the worst stresses come from years of confinement in small cages without proper care or mental stimulation. Until September of 2015, the United States was one of two countries in the world that permitted the biomedical industry to use chimpanzees for research, and roughly 600 chimpanzees remain housed in the research facilities where they have been subjected to medical testing.

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