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Friday, July 23, 2010

Hundreds of New Mexico Chimps at Risk

At a time when the federal government is criticized for fiscally wasteful programs, it’s shocking that the National Center for Research Resources of the National Institutes of Health has come up with a new one: a plan to transfer 202 federally-owned chimpanzees from Alamogordo Primate Facility in New Mexico to the Southwest National Primate Research Center in Texas. These chimps have been warehoused for years in New Mexico at taxpayer expense, and once in Texas, they will be made readily available for invasive research. Fifteen of the chimpanzees have already been transferred—their names yet unknown.

Chimp There has been an outpouring of opposition to this transfer, including from policymakers and opinion leaders. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has called on the NIH to halt the transfer and to instead permanently retire the chimpanzees in New Mexico, including the 15 who have already been sent to Texas. The governor said, “There is a compassionate and prudent alternative to the National Center for Research Resources’ plan and I feel strongly that we must save the chimpanzees.”

Senator Tom Udall, D-N.M., who last week introduced a resolution recognizing Jane Goodall for her 50 years of achievements for chimpanzees, has expressed his concern about the transfer as well and has requested that NIH at least answer questions before proceeding.

The Albuquerque Journal criticized the NIH proposal in a strong editorial, pointing out that the plan is morally “abhorrent,” fiscally “irresponsible,” and scientifically “wasteful.” The paper didn’t pull any punches when it opined, “The federal government’s plan to move chimpanzees from the Alamogordo Primate Facility to a San Antonio lab is wrong on so many levels it’s hard to believe someone with all 23 human chromosome pairs approved it.”

Most of the chimpanzees are elderly and the oldest is Flo, who will turn 53 this September. Many, if not all, were infected long ago with hepatitis and/or HIV. They were once under the control of the infamous Coulston Foundation, a now-defunct laboratory that had a long record of violations of the Animal Welfare Act and Public Health Service Policy. Conditions there prompted NIH to step in and take title to 288 chimpanzees.

The remaining 202 chimpanzees have been warehoused at APF for the last nine years under an expensive contract between the government and Charles River Laboratories, which ends in May 2011. None of the chimpanzees have been used in invasive research during those nine years but have been languishing; they have been forced to endure so much during their lives—it is time to give them the retirement that they deserve.

The HSUS, HSLF, Animal Protection of New Mexico, and other groups are urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to stop the transfer and retire these chimpanzees at the APF facility in New Mexico under the care of a sanctuary organization. The fate of these chimps is hanging in the balance and we urge you to lend your voice to their rescue. And if the Administration doesn’t do the right thing, it’s just one more reason that Congress needs to step in and pass the Great Ape Protection Act, which would end this financial boondoggle and ensure retirement of all 500 government-owned chimpanzees to sanctuary.


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