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NIH to Retire Majority of Research Chimpanzees

PHOTO: Pumpkin, a 24-year-old chimpanzee at the Alamogordo Primate Facility, loves coconuts and kiddie swimming pools. APF is a chimpanzee reserve where no research is conducted.Courtesy: N-I-H.
PHOTO: Pumpkin, a 24-year-old chimpanzee at the Alamogordo Primate Facility, loves coconuts and kiddie swimming pools. APF is a chimpanzee reserve where no research is conducted.
Courtesy: N-I-H.
June 27, 2013

ALAMOGORDO, N.M. - Hope for chimpanzees used for laboratory research came Wednesday morning, when National Institutes of Health director Dr. Francis Collins announced a decision to retire nearly 90 percent of the NIH chimps.

Collins said the agency plans to keep as many as 50 chimpanzees available for future research projects, without further breeding. Decisions about those 50 animals are not expected to be reviewed for another five years.

Laura Bonar, program director of Animal Protection of New Mexico, called this a turning point.

"This is a long-overdue statement about the realization that chimpanzees are more than just lab equipment. They are individuals who have suffered horribly in labs," she said. "This announcement culminates so much work to end the United States' practice of keeping chimps in labs."

While the decision does not affect chimps that are not directly owned by NIH, Bonar called it "the beginning of the end of the suffering" for numerous chimpanzees held in captivity for many years.

According to James Anderson, director of NIH's Division of Program Coordination, hundreds of chimpanzees could be eligible for a change in status.

"We project about 310 would be designated eventually for retirement," he said.

What that means to the chimps at Alamogordo is still unclear. Anderson called Alamogordo a "research reserve facility," and said the agreement with the military is that no research is done there. However, the chimpanzees there are available for research if they are moved. Anderson said no decisions have been made about whether any of them will be included in the reserve group of 50 chimpanzees.

Collins said these retirements will be slow, partly because of financial considerations.

"We're talking about several years, because at the present time, the capacity is not there to handle these animals," Collins said. "It will require considerable expansion of the sanctuary system to make that possible. And we will be working with the sanctuary system, assuming that we can get the Chimp Act cap lifted on cost, to try to make that happen in a timely fashion."

NIH estimates it will cost $3 million in Fiscal Year 2014 to support the animals currently living at Chimp Haven, along with an additional 50 animals being moved there from the New Iberia Research Center. More chimps in the sanctuary system would require additional funds, which NIH officials plan to request for 2015.

An NIH news release on the topic is online at nih.gov.

Renee Blake, Public News Service - NM