While monkey use booms, laboratories are retiring great apes
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2004:
In contrast to the expanding laboratory demand for monkeys,
use of great apes in biomedical research has fallen for about 15
years, partly because they are harder to house and handle, partly
because of the success of the Great Ape Project, the lectures of
wild chimp ethologist Jane Goodall, and others who have gradually
persuaded much of the public that great apes are human-like enough to
have moral standing.
The hottest issue in great ape research in recent years has
been how to retire them from lab use.
First, in 1996, the former LEMSIP chimp colony at New York
University was retired to the Wildlife Waystation sanctuary in
southern California. Then many of the former Buckshire Corporation
and NASA chimps went to Primarily Primates in Texas. Wild Animal
Orphanage, nearby, built a “level 2 biosecurity” facility to
accommodate ex-research chimps who couldn’t be kept at other
sanctuaries because of the diseases they had been exposed to during
their lab years.
As existing sanctuaries reached capacity, primatologist
Carol Noon formed the Center for Captive Chimpanzee Care and in 2002
bought out the Coulston Foundation, formerly the largest chimp
research facility in the world.
Two more great ape facilities are close to opening, designed
to combine longterm care with non-invasive research and health
The $10 million Great Ape Trust of Iowa, in Des Moines,
also known as the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary, on September 27,
2004 received the orangutans Azy, 26, and Indah, 24, from the
National Zoo in Washington D.C., where they had been used in
language research by Rob Shumaker since 1995. Shumaker is now the
Great Ape Trust orangutan research director.
The orangutans will soon be joined by the eight bonobos used
in language studies by Sue Savage Rumbaugh at Georgia State
Facilities for gorillas and chimps will be added later.
The first phase of construction at Chimp Haven, in
development for six years in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, is also
reportedly close to completion. It will house 75 chimpanzees under a
10-year, $19 million contract with the National Institutes of
Health. The NIH is also to provide $10 million in construction
Chimp Haven founders Linda Brent and Linda Koebner have been
severely criticized by much of the rest of the sanctuary community
for agreeing to house animals who could be recalled for invasive use
at any time.
Koebner responded in a 2002 interview with ANIMAL PEOPLE that
regardless of the legal status of the chimps, they deserve the
better life that she and Brent hope to give them, for however long
they are able to enjoy it. Koebner said that she considered the
likelihood of any of the chimps actually even being recalled by the
NIH to be quite small.
In contrast to the promising U.S.-based great ape retirement
projects, attempts to retire great apes from research abroad have
resulted in a series of fiascos.
Friends of Animals in 1991 tried to start a sanctuary for
ex-lab chimps in Liberia. It was overrun by civil war and the chimps
were apparently eaten by the combatants. FoA tried again in Ghana
ten years later, but could not get permission to send chimps who
might have been exposed to AIDS and other deadly diseases. The Ghana
project was abandoned in 2002.
The Jane Goodall Institute has established five chimp
sanctuaries, in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, but mere rumors that
the Goodall sanctuaries might accept ex-lab chimps from abroad have
caused the organization considerable stress.
In Austria, Baxter International Inc. in 2003 closed its
chimp facility and sold the 46 former residents to the Ganserndorf
Safari Park, which was expected to provide sanctuary care but
instead went bankrupt.
“Those chimps are in danger of being sold by the curators to
the highest bidder, including low-quality zoos or research
facilities in Asia,” warned Toby Sterling of Associated Press in
The Dutch government closed the Biomedical Primate Research
Center in 2002, the last facility using great apes in The
“The Dutch government agreed to pay for 39 chimps to move to
a proposed state-of-the-art facility near the town of Relleu,
Spain,” Sterling said. “But Relleu has refused to grant a permit
because residents fear that the chimps carry diseases.”
Seventy chimps were “sold or promised to seven different
European zoos and animal centers of mostly high standards,” Sterling
wrote. “But one of those projects has run into funding trouble and
may not be ready to receive its 20 chimps in time.”
The remaining 23 chimps, who were actually exposed to deadly
diseases, will remain in a closed colony in The Netherlands under