Primarily Primates gets 30 space chimps
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1998:
SAN ANTONIO––In the end,
nothing could stop the U.S. Air Force––
except Primarily Primates.
On August 6, two months after the
initial deadline for deciding the fate of the
former National Aeronautics and Space
Administration chimpanzee colony, who
have been kept at Holloman Air Force Base
in southern New Mexico for more than 40
years, Air Force associate deputy assistant
for science, technology, and engineering
Colonel Jack Blackhurst announced at a
Washington D.C. press conference that of the
141 survivors, 111 will go to the Coulston
Foundation, of Alamogordo, New Mexico.
Headed by Frederick Coulston, 84,
the Coulston Foundation has managed the
colony under contract since 1993. It is also
the world’s largest supplier of chimps to labs.
Primarily Primates, the only other
applicant to meet the Air Force criteria to
receive the chimpanzees, will be given 30.
Primarily Primates was among two
San Antonio-area sanctuaries to be awarded
custody of a large number of nonhuman primates
formerly used in research on the same
day. Almost simultaneously, the University
of Wisconsin at Madison announced that it
will send 55 stumptailed macaques and an
endowment of $40,000 for their upkeep to
Wild Animal Orphanage, whose founder,
Carol Azvestas, is also among the founders
of the American Sanctuary Association,
along with Primarily Primates director Wally
Swett and Tippi Hedren of the Shambala
Preserve in California.
The stumptails were the last of the
macaque colonies who had been kept at the
Vilas Park Zoo in Madison since 1963 on
behalf of the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research
Center. Two colonies of rhesus macaques were transferred
to the Louisiana Regional Primate Research
Center at Tulane University earleir this year.
Behind the scenes
The Air Force had tried since 1995 to donate
the so-called space chimps to Coulston. The deal was
delayed for three years, however, when under pressure
led by noninvasive chimp behavioral researchers Jane
Goodall and Roger Fouts, and Great Ape Project
founder Peter Singer, Congress required the Air Force
to solicit and evaluate bids from other parties who
might wish to give the colony lifetime care.
The key condition was that any bid accepted
not bring cost to the U.S. government.
Five bids were filed. In addition to those
from Coulston and Primarily Primates, would-be takers
included the Center for Captive Chimpanzee Care, of
Boynton Beach, Florida; Chimp Haven, another of the
constellation of sanctuaries near San Antonio; and one
private individual, who later withdrew.
As the initial June 6 deadline for choosing
among them approached, 35 members of Congress,
including House Speaker Newt Gingrich, urged that all
of the chimps be sent into permanent retirement. They
reportedly charged that the Air Force bidding criteria
were unfairly rigged in favor of Coulston.
To show the right stuff to get the chimps, bidders
had to establish financial viability, access to veterinary
care, and chimp-keeping experience.
After Coulston, the top contender was
expected to be the Center for Captive Chimpanzee
Care, with Goodall and Fouts as titular heads and biological
anthropologist Carole Noon, working from her
home, in the leading active role.
Founded to seek the space chimps, the Center
was endorsed by 11 human astronauts, among them
1969 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin and Apollo 13 commander
James Lovell. Anticipating start-up costs of $14
million, the Center won a pledge of $1 million from the
American Anti-Vivisection Society, plus legal and
fundraising help from the Doris Day Animal League,
Animal Legal Defense Fund, United Animal Nations,
and In Defense of Animals.
Several of the supporting organizations filed
suit during the spring in a purported attempt to get more
complete medical histories on the chimps than the Air
Force provided. At least some of the chimps had
reportedly been experimentally exposed to lethal viruses.
The Air Force argued that records as detailed as the
plaintiffs wanted had never been kept.
Chimp Haven, the other sanctuary bidder,
was backed by the National Anti-Vivisection Society.
Primarily Primates had no big-money backing,
and over the past six years has been almost as bitterly
attacked by some animal rights activists as
Coulston, a longtime target. During the Air Force evaluation
process, Primarily Primates was especially targeted
by Nanci Alexander of the Alexander Foundation,
who said she had seen abusive conditions during a
February 1996 visit, and claimed support for her negative
assessment from Fouts, Doris Day Animal League
president Holly Hazard, and Fund for Animals staffer
Primarily Primates on-site directors Wally
Swett and Stephen Tello, however, told A N I M A L
PEOPLE that what Alexander actually saw, during 18
minutes between log-in and log-out, were their efforts
to capture and euthanize a former laboratory macaque
who had abruptly gone berserk and begun severe selfmutilation.
Such episodes are not uncommon among
ex-laboratory primates, and are part of why no one,
before Swett, tried to rehabilitate macaques who had
endured prolonged isolation or invasive experiments.
Daring to risk failure, Swett over the past 20
years has developed rehabilitation methods that sanctuarians
now emulate around the world, making retirement
not just a dream but an option for animals who
formerly would have been “sacrificed” and dissected.
“Primarily Primates was one of five bidders
seeking to acquire the chimps,” secretary Tello and
administrative assistant Laura Joann explained. “We
made an oral presentation to the Air Force on June 29,
and the Air Force performed a site inspection on July
18,” following review of Primarily Primates’ written
application and financial documents.
The Primarily Primates rehab record clinched
the deal, at least on paper. On May 17, Primarily
Primates admitted 10 chimps from the former
Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery In
Primates at New York University into a new $151,000
enclosure––the most freedom and social opportunity
they have ever had. Primarily Primates hopes to take
16 more ex-LEMSIP chimps, but must gain the wherewithal
first to build similar caging for them.
(The ex- LEMSIP chimps have been divided
among three sanctuaries in all. Wildlife Waystation, of
Angeles National Forest, California, took 50, and the
Fauna Foundation of Carignan, Quebec, took 12, with
support from the Jane Goodall Foundation.)
A $70,000 grant from the San Antonio
Foundation is meanwhile enabling Primarily Primates
to house a colony of cotton-top tamarins who were formerly
used in colon cancer research at the University of
Tennessee, along with various parrots who were seized
from alleged smugglers by law enforcement.
Ahead, Swett and Tello must raise $2.8 million
to build housing for the space chimps and start an
endowment fund for their upkeep.
“We strongly believe we could have provided
sanctuary to all 141 chimps, if only we had the financial
ability,” Tello and Joann said. As A N I M A L
PEOPLE went to press, none of the organizations that
supported the failed bids had offered to redirect their
promised funding to help Primarily Primates, and only
American Anti-Vivisection Society executive director
Tina Nelson had even called with congratulations,
Swett admitted when pressed.
The space chimp colony began circa 1956
with 65 chimps who were imported from Africa to
become breeding stock. Three of those chimps and 33
of their offspring are reportedly still colony members.
NASA discontinued the space chimp program in 1970,
but continued to maintain the colony. The colony
included a total of 150 chimps when the Air Force initially
sought to transfer title to Coulston, but nine subsequently
died, two of them in an incident that brought
a financial penalty under the Animal Welfare Act.
Although several Coulston facilities have
been penalized for AWA violations, the Air Force
reported that the company record overall is comparable
to that of most other large primate research centers.