NIH begins to retire most of chimp inventory from research

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2013:

SHREVEPORT––The National Institutes of Health Council of Councils Working Group on January 23, 2013 “agreed that all but 50 of hundreds of chimpanzees kept for federally funded research should be retired from labs and sent to a national sanctuary,” summarized Janet McConnaughey of Associated Press. “Already,” McConnaughey reported a day later, “nine chimpanzees have arrived at Chimp Haven, outside Shreveport, Louisiana, “from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s New Iberia Research Center, which no longer has an NIH chimp research contract.” Another 102 chimps were expected to come from New Iberia during the next few months. Four NIH chimps at New Iberia were said to be too ill to relocate. About 230 chimps belonging to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette are to remain at New Iberia. The NIH pledged in 2011 to phase out most invasive research on chimps. An 86-page set of recommendations released by the Council of Councils Working Group suggests that chimps should henceforth be used in research only if there is no other way to investigate a risk to human health.

The recommendations are to go to NIH director Francis S. Collins for final approval following a 60-day public comment period. “We should see more than 300 chimpanzees getting moved to the federal sanctuary system,” projected Humane Society of the U.S. vice president for animal research Kathleen Conlee. HSUS in December 2012 made a grant of $500,000 to Chimp Haven to help build $2.3 million worth of facilities needed to accommodate the additional chimps, who will nearly double the Chimp Haven population.

Chimp Haven had 121 chimps when the transfers from New Iberia began. The HSUS grant was supported by a contribution from philanthropist Audrey Steele Burnand, said HSUS president Wayne Pacelle. Chimp Haven has also received pledges for $100,000 from the New England Anti-Vivisection Society and $25,000 from the National Anti-Vivisection Society, reported Richard Burgess of the Baton Rouge Advocate. Originally, recalled Burgess, “The plan was to send 10 animals to Chimp Haven and to send the remaining 100 to the Texas Biomedical Institute in San Antonio, with the understanding that the animals would be permanently ineligible for further use in biomedical research.” The plan was revised, Burgess said, after “Several animal rights groups objected to sending any of the animals to another research facility.”

NIH is in theory to contribute 75% of the cost of keeping the chimps at Chimp Haven, estimated at about $13,000 per chimp per year. However, total NIH spending for construction and care of chimps at Chimp Haven has been capped at $30 million, a total now looming, Burgess reported. Lifting the cap will require a Congressional apportionment. The NIH Council of Councils Working Group recommends that chimps should be kept in groups of at least seven, with about 1,000 square feet of outdoor space per chimp, including all-year outdoor access to play yards surfaced with a variety of natural materials such as grass, dirt, and mulch, with climbing structures sufficient to let all members of large troupes travel, feed, and rest as if in trees, and with material to allow them to build new sleeping nests each day. Currently, chimps at Chimp Haven “can climb trees and walk through the woods, just as a wild chimpanzee would,” founder Linda Brent told Burgess.

But Brent will not have the challenge of expanding the habitat to ensure that the newcomers have the same opportunities. Brent retired at the end of 2012, as she had announced she would a year earlier, to spend more time with her husband, who works near Houston. Incorporating Chimp Haven in 1995, Brent “persuaded the Caddo Parish government to donate 200 acres in the Eddie D. Jones Nature Park near Keithville,” McConnaughey of Associated Press recalled. “In 2002, Congress approved up to $30 million for construction and chimp care. The first 31 chimpanzees arrived in 2005.” Succeeding Brent is Cathy Willis Spraetz, identified by McConnaughey as “former president and CEO of Partnership against Domestic Violence and other non-profits in the Atlanta area.”

Altogether, about 950 chimps are still held at U.S. research facilities, of whom nearly 400 will remain at five federally funded primate centers after the transfers to Chimp Haven. According to A Review of Autopsy Reports on Chimpanzees in or from U.S. Laboratories, published in the October 2012 journal Alternatives to Laboratory Animals, necropsies on 110 U.S. laboratory chimps who have died since 2000 found that 64% of those chimpanzees suffered from serious chronic illnesses, while 69% had diseases which should have caused them to be retired from research use. “All chimpanzees suffering chronic or incurable physical or psychological illness should be immediately released to sanctuary,” said study co-author and NEAVS president Theodora Capaldo. “They deserve,” Capaldo said, “to spend every minute of their remaining years in the comfort and safety of a healing environment.”

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