Is the NIH really going to send chimps to India?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2003:
THIRUVANATHAPURAM–G. Mahadevan of The Hindu daily
newspaper caught both the Indian and U.S. animal advocacy communities
by surprise with an April 15 report that the Thuruvananthapuram Zoo
in the capital city of Kerala state “is finalizing paperwork for the
transfer of two male and two female chimps from the National
Institute of Health in Maryland.”
Joyce McDonald, acting communications director for the
National Center for Research Resources at the U.S. National
Institutes of Health, confirmed to ANIMAL PEOPLE that “NCRR has
begun preliminary discussions with the Thiruvananthapuram Zoo in
India concerning the transfer of chimpanzees from the United States,”
but indicated that it is far from a done deal.
“There are many issues that need to be resolved before any
final determinations are made,” McDonald said. “For instance, NCRR
has to be assured that the zoo environment is appropriate and
properly accredited; that lifetime care is available; that the
animals will stay in the zoo; that notification and approval from
U.S. and Indian regulatory agencies has been obtained; that proper
transportation can be provided, etc. In addition, we need to assured
that expenses can be covered by the Indian zoo. Again, our
discussions are very preliminary,” McDonald emphasized, “and these
issues must be resolved to our satisfaction before NIH would
coordinate the transfer of the animals from a U.S. research facility.
“NCRR takes very seriously its responsibility for the welfare
of all the research animals it supports,” McDonald continued. We
want to be sure the animals are properly cared for. At the same
time, we view this as a potential opportunity to provide chimpanzees
to an educational organization.”
The NIH has recently been reducing its stock of adult chimps,
chiefly through retirements to the Chimp Haven
sanctuary-in-development at Shreveport, Louisiana.
The NIH has not, however, previously retired chimps abroad,
and has been skeptical of attempts by Friends of Animals and other
nonprofit organizations to privately retire ex-laboratory chimps to
semi-natural habitat in Africa. The NIH has also insisted upon being
able to recall any chimps it has retired for further research use,
along with any offspring they may have, should they ever again be of
interest to researchers.
“The zoo is planning to initiate a breeding program as soon
as the chimps arrive,” Mahadevan continued, after briefly
discussing the permitting process for the acquisition. Since chimps
are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species, a breeding loan may be the easiest format for arranging the
Critics of the NIH chimp program have suspected that the NIH
may intending to replace the older chimps it now has with a younger
population, but sending any chimps born in India to the U.S. would
require the amendment of an Indian national policy against exporting
nonhuman primates which has been in effect since 1978.
“Work on the construction of an enclosure for the chimps will
commence on April 24,” Mahadevan said, naming the contractor and
describing the plans in detail.
“The zoo has not had chimps for nearly two decades,”
Mahadevan noted, mentioning that a chimp care staff must be trained
during the coming months and citing “some concern among the zoo
authorities” about the propensity of chimps for catching human
diseases, “as there is no way they will be able to screen visitors
for any such diseases. The zoo director, C. S. Yelakki, points out
that some chimps in captivity in Indian zoos suffer from
tuberculosis,” Mahadevan mentioned, “which they most likely
contracted from visitors.”
Responded People for Animals founder Maneka Gandhi,
“Thuruvanantha-puram has the worst zoo in India. It has no space,
and it is under the museum department. It is death to have the
chimps transferred there. If the chimps absolutely have to come,”
she suggested, “then the Arignar Anna Zoological Park near Chennai
has open space for chimps, and they have chimps who were recently
rescued from a circus.”
The rescue, in January 2003, was among the most prominent
confiscations of Indian performing animals yet. The first
three–Ganga, 43, Shiva, 22, and Lakshmi, 22, who had paralyzed
hind limbs–were seized from the Great Royal Circus on January 9 by
the Chennai chapter of PfA and local police. The circus kept Guru,
10, a purported albino whose act involved riding a bicycle, and
reportedly resisted releasing any of the chimps until regional Joint
Commissioner of Police C. Sylendra Babu and Deputy Commissioner S.S.
Krishnamoorthy came to supervise.
Chimpanzee ethologist and advocate Jane Goodall was in
Bangalore at the time, and saw photos and video of the chimps.
“I have a lot of experience at rescuing chimps around the
world,” Goodall told Ramya Kannan and P. Oppili of The Hindu, “but
this bunch are in by far the worst condition. They look like
skeletons. It is shocking that they have been treated so callously.”
PfA and the police went back to get Guru on January 14.
“When all arrangements were made to shift the primate to an
ambulance, the keeper suddenly released Guru,” Oppili wrote. “He
ran helter-skelter, creating panic among visitors and employees of
Ganga and Shiva were brought back to the circus the next day
to help persuade Guru to cooperate. But convincing Guru proved to be
less difficult than getting cooperation from the circus staff.
Police commissioners Babu and
Krishnamoorthy again intervened to complete the transfer.
Shiva, 22, died in quarantine on March 16 at the Arignar Anna
Zoological Park. The prognosis for Ganga and Lakshmi was reportedly
The circus contested the seizure of the chimps. The circus
petition was dismissed on March 28 by Justice P. Sathasivam of the
Madras High Court.