Will Alamogordo Become a Chimpanzee Ghost Town?
Photo credit: Save the Chimps, Inc.
ALAMOGORDO, N.M. - From 2002 to 2011, 266 chimpanzees left the Coulston Foundation in Alamogordo for the Save The Chimps sanctuary in Fort Pierce, Fla. Now another exodus could be in the offing.
Last week, recommendations made to the National Institutes of Health by an internal committee concluded that chimpanzees no longer were needed in most experiments, so most of the federally owned chimps could be retired. That would mean many of the 169 chimps being held at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo as well as chimps in two other facilities could be moving to a sanctuary.
It's not a certainty, however. Justin Goodman, director of the laboratory investigations department at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, says public comment will be one of the deciding factors.
"We really need to see public policy and laboratory practice evolve with the public's changing attitude, especially because these experiments are supposedly conducted for the public's benefit," Goodman says. "If that's really true, these policies have to be aligned with where the public's mind is at."
The public has until March 22 to make itself heard by filling out an online form to be considered by NIH before the institute pronounces its verdict on the future of these animals. People who want to participate in the decision-making process for the future of the federally owned chimpanzees can fill out the form by clicking here.
NIH director Dr. Francis Collins is expected to announce his findings in late March.
Chimps have been used in invasive medical research, behavioral studies and the entertainment industry and pet trade. Dr. Stacy Lopresti-Goodman, assistant professor of psychology at Marymount University in Arlington, Va., works with chimpanzees in sanctuaries to help them overcome what she characterizes as post-traumatic stress disorder caused by their experiences in these situations.
"Forcibly separating chimpanzees from their mothers at an early age; keeping them socially isolated for prolonged periods of time; repeatedly shooting them with a dart gun can result in the chimpanzees being terrified that every time a human walks into a room that they might hurt them," she says.
The chimpanzees retired from the Coulston Foundation were moved to Save the Chimps, a sanctuary in Florida where Jen Feuerstein is director. She says the difference in conditions of laboratory life and sanctuary life is like night and day.
"The facility in New Mexico was dismal; a stark utilitarian facility, concrete and steel," she says. "It was cages. In Florida, they have three acres without being in a cage, and they have large family groups."
Should the chimps at the Air Force base be retired, many of them will be moved to Chimp Haven, a sanctuary in Keithville, La.
The recommendation report is available online at dpcpsi.nih.gov. The public comment form is at grants.nih.gov.