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Future of Alamogordo Chimpanzees Still Unclear After NIH Announcement

Heidi (28 years old   at Alamogordo - used in Hepatitis B experiments, positive for Hepatitis B).Courtesy: National Institutes of Health.
Heidi (28 years old at Alamogordo - used in Hepatitis B experiments, positive for Hepatitis B).
Courtesy: National Institutes of Health.
October 9, 2012

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - At least ten chimpanzees from New Mexico's Alamogordo Primate Facility, currently being held at a research facility in Louisiana that is losing its funding, are among the 110 that were recently deemed permanently ineligible for biomedical research. But that's not exactly positive news for animal protection advocates, as Laura Bonar, program director for Animal Protection of New Mexico and animal protection voters, points out.

"The announcement that NIH made seemed like good news at first. And then everyone was sort of thrown for a loop when they announced that they were moving those chimps to another lab instead of to sanctuary."

Only ten of the original 110 chimpanzees mentioned in the NIH announcement will actually be retired to the Chimp Haven sanctuary in Shreveport, Louisiana. The other 100 chimps are scheduled for transfer early this month to another lab, known as Texas Biomed, where invasive experiments involving chimps are listed in a recent report that facility sent to NIH.

Bonar says even being exempted from biomedical research is no guarantee of a good life for the chimps, or any life at all. One unlucky chimpanzee named Sterling wound up in that unfortunate situation.

"He was born in the lab in New Mexico. He was shipped to New Iberia Research Center. He was never even used in any research protocols, because he was so traumatized. He died in the lab. And it's too late for Sterling to see sanctuary."

Kathleen Conlee, vice president for animal research issues t the Humane Society of the United States, says while the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana is a troubled facility, the situation at Texas Biomed is not any more promising for the chimps' quality of life.

"We know that they have a history of animal welfare violations and have serious concerns about the culture of care at that facility. They would have a much better life at Chimp Haven. Their mission is to provide for the well-being of these chimpanzees."

Texas Biomed says it provides exemplary care for its animals, going beyond established guidelines.

Elizabeth Kucinich, director of public and government affairs with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, says that while the news is disheartening, she's not giving up.

"We are going to be communicating with a number of different organizations to get this transfer to Texas blocked and to get these chimpanzees put into sanctuary."

Laura Bonar says there are almost 1,000 chimpanzees in labs today that deserve the chance of peace and dignity at the end of their lives.

Stories on the NIH announcement appeared in September in Scientific American: and the Washington Post"

Renee Blake, Public News Service - NM