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Last 50 Chimps in NIH–Funded Research to Be Freed

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The last 50 chimpanzees used in biomedical research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will be released to the national chimpanzee sanctuary on the order of NIH director Francis Collins. The decision effectively puts an end to government-funded biomedical research on our primate relatives in the United States.

“It is clear that we’ve reached a tipping point,” Dr. Collins said in a statement. “I have reassessed the need to maintain chimpanzees for biomedical research and decided that effective immediately, NIH will no longer maintain a colony of 50 chimpanzees for future research.”

These 50 chimps have been the only ones in use in NIH-funded biomedical research since 2013, when the NIH decided there was little justification for including chimps in such studies because “new scientific methods and technologies have rendered their use in research largely unnecessary,” Collins explained then. As a result, the NIH subsequently released more than 300 chimps into retirement.

The current decision to let the final troop retire comes just a few months after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service classified all chimpanzees—both wild and captive—as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. (Before that, only wild chimpanzees were considered endangered.) This designation triggered a new protocol that required researchers working in private laboratories to obtain a permit showing how harmful or invasive research would benefit wild chimp populations. Those permits were also subject to public comment. As of September 14, when the new rules took effect, no one has applied for one, according to the NIH.  

That’s significant, because there are an estimated 700 chimpanzees being used in private research facilities in the U.S., says The Humane Society, one of the organizations that filed the legal petition that led to the new endangered species classification.

Where will the chimps go? To Chimp Haven, the national chimpanzee sanctuary in Keithville, Lousiana, which has provided a refuge for retired research chimps since 2002. They’ll relocate the chimps to the Bayou State “as space is available and on a timescale that will allow for optimal transition of each individual chimpanzee with careful consideration of their welfare, including their health and social grouping,” according to Collins’ statement.  

This decision only applies to chimpanzees, Collins is careful to note. “Research with other non-human primates will continue to be valued, supported, and conducted by the NIH,” he said.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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