What to do with 1,000-plus surplus lab primates?

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1997:

Rattie, a seven-inch albino rat
belonging to Judy Reavis, M.D., of
Benecia, California, earns her living
pulling computer wiring through woodwork
for Hermes Systems Management, exercising
skills developed originally by running
mazes in a psychological research lab to
claim rewards of cat food and candy.
If laboratory primates had comparable
abilities and work habits, labs now
downsizing would have little trouble finding
homes for them all––but primates have been
used mainly to suffer from disease and
breed more primates. As disease research
moves away from animal models, the cost
of keeping chimpanzee and rhesus macaque
colonies has the governments of both the
U.S. and Canada looking at phase-out
options. Chimp maintenance alone costs
U.S. federal agencies a combined total of
$7.3 million a year. The estimated cost of
maintaining each chimp over an average 25-
year lifespan is circa $300,000.

A National Research Council
investigation of the U.S. chimp surplus, led
by Duke Center for AIDS Research director
Dani Bolognesi, in late July recommended
against euthanizing the estimated 200 to 250
“surplus” chimps among the current lab
population of about 1,500, for a combination
of ethical and pragmatic reasons. The
NRC panel called for a five-year moratorium
on chimp breeding for labs, and recommended
that all lab chimps should be managed
by one federal agency.
About 260 chimps who may be
carrying deadly infectious diseases must
remain quarantined for the rest of their lives,
albeit that the diseases in question, such as
AIDS, may remain latent and never emerge
in symptomatic form.
Bred but no demand
Much of the surplus results from a
National Institutes of Health breeding program,
begun in 1986, which produced 394
infants in expectation that AIDS research
would stimulate demand for chimps––but
when chimps proved extraordinarily resistant
to the human form of AIDS, the
demand never developed.
Health Canada meanwhile convened
a Royal Society panel in mid-July to
conduct a $70,000 study on what to do with
750 longtailed macaques, descendants of a
colony brought from the Philippines in
1983. The macaques cost about $1 million
a year to maintain at facilities in Tunney’s
Pasture, a government office complex on
the outskirts of Ottawa.
The Primarily Primates sanctuary
near San Antonio, Texas, on July 18
offered to take the Health Canada
macaques––if they come with funding to
build them appropriate enclosures, and an
endowment to provide for their care.
Obtaining more land would be essential, as
with 450 primates already on hand,
Primarily Primates has little room to grow.
The Wisconsin Regional Primate
Research Center, managed by the University
of Wisconsin at Madison, houses 48
stumptailed macaques and 100 rhesus monkeys
at the Henry Vilas Zoo. In early July,
interim primate center director Joseph
Kemnitz notified zoo director David Hall
that the present 10-year lease will not be
renewed when it expires in 2003. Rumors
circulated that Procter & Gamble might buy
the primates for use in researching hair
growth products. Both Kemnitz and Hall
said their preference would be to leave the
stumptails and rhesuses at the zoo––but the
zoo would have to raise another $40,000 to
$70,000 a year for routine upkeep, exclusive
of staffing and the cost of physical
improvements to the four monkey enclosures.
As investigation of the possibilities
began, the Capital Times disclosed that 65
monkeys from the zoo had been used
improperly in terminal AIDS research, violating
both the American Zoo Association
code of ethics and University of Wisconsin
policy, which has forbidden invasive use of
the zoo primates since 1989.
Monkey islands
Concerned that the then-pending
Endangered Species Act and Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species
might cut off the supply of wild-caught primates
for lab use, the NIH and Food &
Drug Administration in 1973 encouraged
the animal supplier Charles River Inc. to
import 2,366 Indian rhesus macaques and
keep them on Raccoon Key and Key Lois,
off southern Florida. Destroying foliage
and causing water pollution, the macaques
became officially unwelcome in 1982.
Fifteen years of litigation followed, as the
state of Florida tried to evict the monkeys
while Charles River, with nowhere else to
put them, tried unsuccessfully to fulfill a
1988 agreement to reduce the monkey population,
improve security after monkeys
escaped to nearby keys, and revegetate, in
exchange for longterm leaseholds. At a
three-day hearing in mid-July, Charles
River pledged to remove the last 75 monkeys
on Lois Key by
December––but that leaves the
question of what to do with the
880 still on Raccoon Key.
The reduction of U.S.
and Canadian primate inventories
affects foreign suppliers,
too––including Inquatex, of
Indonesia, which recently began
flying its entire colony of 1,500
monkeys to LABS Inc., of
Virginia. On April 10, the
International Primate Protection
League learned from a tipster
nearly three months after the
fact, 253 crab-eating macaques
en route from Inquatex to LABS
were delayed for two days in Paris, due to
mechanical problems with the aircraft. In
Paris, a mother monkey died of an
unknown cause and her baby was euthanized
by the attending veterinarian.
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
inspector cleared the remaining monkeys for
entry into the U.S. at O’Hare Airport in
Chicago, IPPL president Shirley McGreal
said, even though 20 were babies under
three months of age and 17 more were pregnant.
Federal regulations governing wildlife
transport provide that “A mammal in the
last third of its pregnancy…shall not be
accepted for transport to the U.S. except for
medical treatment,” adding that “an
unweaned mammal unaccompanied by its
mother shall be transported only if the primary
purpose is for medical treatment.”
According to McGreal, the
USFWS agent who claimed to have inspected
“100%” of the monkeys when he
checked off the import document “later
informed a caller that he had in fact not
looked at the animals, and that despite the
listing of the babies on the documents, was
unaware that the shipment included babies.”
Added McGreal after further
investigation, “We have a further scandal.
Indonesia bans export of wild-caught primates,
but many of the tattoo numbers of
animals coming in now are part of the tattoo
number strings used with shipments entering
the U.S. in 1990 as wild-caught.”
Noting multiple violations of
International Air Travel Association and
company standards, Air France quit accepting
primate shipments from Indonesia.
Exploring the sanctuary option for
surplus chimps, Jane Goodall Institute
trustee Peter Grey expressed hope in late
June that Sun International Inc. would provide
seed money to form South Africa’s
first chimp sanctuary, near Sun City. The
sanctuary would receive disease-free chimps
from laboratories in other nations.
Two similar colonies for retired
lab chimps, separately begun in Liberia
circa 1990 by Friends of Animals and the
New York Blood Center, were early casualties
of the Liberian civil war.

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