NIH “reclaims” 288 chimpanzees from Coulston Foundation

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2000:

ALAMOGORDO, N.M.––Bailing the Coulston Foundation out of yet another jam––although Coulston spokesperson Don McKinney denied that the foundation was actually in a jam––the National Institutes of Health on May 11 reclaimed title to 288 of the 650 chimpanzees at the Coulston primate care facility on the grounds of Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

As recently as March 20, In Defense of Animals recommended such a takeover, claiming in a press release that “Coulston is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, with at least $800,000 in unpaid bills and $2.6 million in outstanding loans.”

But IDA president Elliot Katz was not happy with the deal. “Because it does not call for retirement, does not prevent more research, and does not guarantee the removal of the chimps from Coulston’s control, the NIH plan is a shocking betrayal,” charged Katz, whose staff has closely monitored Coulston dealings for years.

In August 1999 the Coulston Foundation settled Animal Welfare Act charges brought by the USDA Animal and Planth Health Inspection Service for care violations dating to 1997 by agreeing to divest itself of 300 chimps by January 2002. Although the chimps remain in Coulston custody, the transfer of title to the NIH apparently achieves near-compliance with the letter of the agreement––and means that taxpayers will now foot the $2.5-million-a-year bill for their upkeep. The NIH has reportedly already paid Coulston $10 million to feed and house the chimps since 1993.

Coulston has been hit with Animal Welfare Act charges in connection with the deaths of nine chimps since March 1998. In addition, In Defense of Animals said, Coulston was cited as recently as March 2000 for improperly allowing chimps to breed, in violation of the August 1999 consent decree.

Soon after the March citation, Coulston president David Renquist, DVM, resigned after less than six months, and was succeeded by longtime staffer Ronald Couch. “Couch was the study director involved in the grossly negligent deaths of three chimps from well-known side effects of a drug being tested,” IDA spokesperson Eric Kleiman said.

“Given the foundation’s record, relieving it of half its chimps might seem like a good idea,” wrote Shannon Brownlee for the Washington Post. “But instead of relief, there is frustration. There is nowhere else to send hundreds of chimps around the country who are no longer needed for research.”

Primarily Primates of San Antonio, Texas, now has 34 chimps from the former NASA colony managed by Coulston at Alamogordo, and Wildlife Waystation in 1995 took 50 chimps from the former New York University Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery In Primates. There are approximately 1,700 chimps in laboratory facilities, however, of whom as many as 1,000 might be retired, according to U.S. Representative Michael Bilirakis (R-Florida) if facilities and funding existed to do it.

Representative James Greenwood (R-Pennsylvania) in November 1999 introduced a federal bill which would require the Department of Health and Human Services to put up $30 million for construction of a major chimp retirement sanctuary, and would require private researchers who used chimps to ante up another $3 million.

Florida primatologist Carol Noon and Louisiana primatologist Linda Koebner have been trying to found chimp sanctuaries of the necessary scale, with the backing of various animal advocacy organizations, since approximately 1995. Koebner as of May 15 expected to begin receiving retired chimps at her location near Shreveport in 2001.

A Friends of Animals plan to retire former research chimps to island sanctuaries in Ghana has apparently fallen through because the islands in question could not be adequately secured. Primarily Primates president Wally Swett, who was to supervise construction of the Ghanian sanctuary, withdrew from the project in November 1999.

Several other chimp sanctuaries are operating in Africa. The Chimfushi Wildlife Orphanage in Chingola, Zambia, recently released 40 chimpanzees who were confiscated from smugglers, failing zoos, and traveling circuses into 13,000 acres of protected habitat alongside the Kafue River.

Of much smaller scale is the Ngamba Chimpanzee Sanctuary, on Ngamba Island in Lake Victoria. It was formed in 1998 as a joint project of the Uganda Wildlife Association, Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, Zoological Parks Board of New South Wales, Jane Goodall Institute, Born Free Foundation, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Neither Chimfushi nor Ngamba is viewed as an appropriate destination for chimps from laboratory backgrounds.

Makerere University at Kibale, Uganda, has an outdoor chimpanzee research colony––but nine of the 52 chimps it had as of 1998 have been poached for bush meat during the past two years, project field manager Catherine Pieta recently told Cranimer Magera of the Kampala newspaper New Vison.

Monkeys too

Many smaller primates are also being retired from research, when places for them can be found. Wild Animal Orphanage, another San Antonio-area sanctuary, in April accepted four female rhesus macaques who were exposed to the deadly herpes B virus while being used in experiments at the University of Florida in Gainesville. The placement was reportedly arranged by Kari Bagnall of the Jungle Friends sanctuary.

The macaques were retired from use at Gainesville soon after University of Florida director of animal resources Jerry Davis was fired, after seven years, and was returned to his former position as a professor of veterinary medicine. The firing followed a negative inspection report by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care, and a series of incidents involving monkeys, horses, sheep, and other species who allegedly received inadequate veterinary care under Davis.

Paradoxically, while use of chimps and some other primate species is down, overall use of nonhuman primates is up by 11% over the past decade––chiefly in connection with research pertaining to AIDS, asthma, gene therapy, and behavioral development, University of California at Davis primate center veterinarian Jeff Roberts recently told Edie Lau of the Sacramento Bee.

The California Regional Primate Research Center at Davis is planning to expand its monkey-holding capacity from the present 3,800 to nearly 5,000 during the next five years, Roberts explained. Plans are reportedly also afoot to expand all seven of the other Regional Primate Research Centers, which are funded by the NIH.

Oklahoma State University at Stillwater has scrapped plans to renovate an existing building into a relatively modest-sized primate research center, capable of housing about a dozen macaques, and has instead raised $2 million so far toward the cost of building a $3.5 million high-security primate lab, OSU College of Veterinary Medicine dean Joe Alexander recently told Oklahoma City Oklahoman staff writer Michael McNutt.

The possibility that researchers may soon be able to genetically engineer and clone nonhuman primates is helping to drive interest in starting or expanding university primate labs. Associated Press reported on April 28 that alcoholism researcher Kathleen Grant of Wake Forest University is currently trying to clone genetically identical offspring of monkeys who are predisposed to develop alcoholism. Similar experiments underway at the Oregon Regional Primate Center in Portland and the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center at the University of Wisconsin have thus far been unsuccessful.

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