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Yerkes to Donate Chimpanzees to Wingham Wildlife Park

February 4, 2015

Additional donations under consideration

Media Contacts

Lisa Newbern, 404-727-7709,

Today, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, announced it is donating eight chimpanzees to the Wingham Wildlife Park in Kent, United Kingdom. The center also says it is considering several additional donation opportunities, all of which combined will retire a significant portion of the center’s chimpanzee colony.

The 27-acre Wingham Wildlife Park is home to 200 species and more than 650 animals, including big cats, reptiles and nonhuman primates. More than 220,000 guests visit the park annually, where work is well under way for the new chimpanzee exhibit scheduled to open this summer.

“The Yerkes Research Center has been evaluating opportunities to donate chimpanzees for several years because of the center’s changing research priorities and focus on national health priorities,” says Yerkes Director R. Paul Johnson, MD. These include HIV cure research, neuroscience and genomics. “Given Emory is home to the Emory Vaccine Center and Center for AIDS Research in addition to the Yerkes Research Center, I believe we are uniquely positioned to be a leader in HIV cure research and to serve as a resource to researchers worldwide who are seeking to identify the reservoirs in the human body where HIV hides and what we can do to ultimately eliminate such viral reservoirs,” says Johnson. “We also want to further our neuroscience and genomics studies, such as by aligning with the White House BRAIN initiative and President Obama’s recently announced Precision Medicine Initiative. Our center’s scientific expertise, facilities and animal resources position us to help transform our understanding of the human mind and body, improve health and better treat, prevent and cure disease,” Johnson continues.

To facilitate these research opportunities, an interdisciplinary team of Yerkes employees has been thoroughly evaluating options to retire Yerkes-owned chimpanzees. This review includes assessing the expertise of veterinary and animal care staff, the ratio of animal resources staff to animals, regulatory reports, facilities, finances and community support. The team is also conducting site visits. For any chimpanzees that remain at Yerkes, the center will continue to provide the best care possible, including a wide diversity of behavioral enrichment programs. Chimpanzees at Yerkes will also continue to participate in behavioral studies that are examining topics such as empathy, communication and conflict resolution.

Because of research with chimpanzees, we know more about infectious diseases and vaccine development in humans and chimpanzees, and now have vaccines that prevent hepatitis A and B. We also better understand what makes us human because of comparative behavioral research with chimpanzees. Such comparative research at Yerkes has shown:

   – Variation in chimpanzee intelligence depends on genes the animals carry and pass on from one generation to the next. Yerkes researchers say such genetic differences are key to understanding the cognitive abilities of primates and their evolution over time, which provides insight into human intelligence.

   – The ability of chimpanzees to offer empathy to other individuals is similar to the ability of humans to extend empathy to others, both known and unknown. Yerkes researchers say this similarity may explain the evolution of how and when humans engage with others, and that this information can be key in trying to influence and increase human empathy.

   – Fairness is not uniquely human, but is also something chimpanzees possess. Yerkes researchers say this finding suggests a long evolutionary history of human aversion to inequity as well as a shared preference for fair outcomes by the common ancestor of humans and apes, and opens the door to further study into the mechanisms behind this human-like behavior.

Established in 1930, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center paved the way for what has become the National Institutes of Health-funded National Primate Research Center (NPRC) program. For more than eight decades, the Yerkes Research Center has been dedicated to conducting essential basic science and translational research to advance scientific understanding and to improve human health and well-being. Today, the Yerkes Research Center is one of only seven NPRCs. The center provides leadership, training and resources to foster scientific creativity, collaboration and discoveries, and research at the center is grounded in scientific integrity, expert knowledge, respect for colleagues, an open exchange of ideas and compassionate, quality animal care.

In the fields of microbiology and immunology, infectious diseases, pharmacology and drug discovery, transplantation, neurologic and psychiatric diseases, as well as behavioral, cognitive and developmental neuroscience, Yerkes scientists use innovative experimental models and cutting-edge technologies to explore and test transformative concepts aimed at: preventing and treating viral diseases such as AIDS; designing novel vaccines for infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis; enhancing the potential of organ transplantation and regenerative medicine; discovering new drugs and drug classes through high-throughput screening; defining the basic neurobiology and genetics of social behavior and developing new therapies for disorders such as autism and drug addiction; understanding the biology of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases; and advancing knowledge about the evolutionary links between biology and behavior.

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The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service. Its components include the Emory University School of Medicine, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, and Rollins School of Public Health; Yerkes National Primate Research Center; Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University; and Emory Healthcare, the largest, most comprehensive health system in Georgia. Emory Healthcare includes: The Emory Clinic, Emory-Children's Center, Emory University Hospital, Emory University Hospital Midtown, Wesley Woods Center, and Emory University Orthopaedics & Spine Hospital. The Woodruff Health Sciences Center has a $2.5 billion budget, 17,600 employees, 2,500 full-time and 1,500 affiliated faculty, 4,700 students and trainees, and a $5.7 billion economic impact on metro Atlanta.

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