Over 100 Chimpanzees Guaranteed Sanctuary

AAVS applauds NIH decision to permanently retire chimps at Louisiana lab

December 18, 2012

It was announced today that a total of 113 government-owned chimpanzees currently housed at the controversial New Iberia Research Center will be permanently retired and sent to the National Chimpanzee Sanctuary at Chimp Haven in Louisiana. AAVS and its supporters had been urging this action since the announcement in September that these chimpanzees had been declared ‘ineligible’ for research, but the majority would live out their lives in another laboratory setting.

AAVS, which has long championed an end to chimp research, applauds the agreement reached by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Chimp Haven to ensure that the transfer of these animals occurs in a timely and cooperative way.

“These chimpanzees’ lives will be transformed from something tragic to something beautiful, and they certainly deserve it,” said AAVS President Sue Leary. “I am so proud of our members and all the individuals and organizations that care about animals, who spoke out for these chimps until a positive solution was found.”

This decision is another milestone in the evolution of NIH policy about chimpanzee use in experiments. One year ago, NIH announced that it was halting new funding for research using chimpanzees, and declared that it would adopt new, strict criteria, limiting the use of these animals in federally-funded studies. The move followed a report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM), which concluded that “most current use of chimpanzees is unnecessary.” A Working Group set up to implement the recommendations of the IOM report will release its own findings in January, 2013.

NIH claims that the decision to retire the chimps at New Iberia was made because the facility did not apply for funding to continue to house the NIH-owned chimps. However, it seems likely that NIH and New Iberia relations have been under strain since a 2009 undercover investigation showed the ill treatment of animals at the facility, and it was revealed that the lab bred government-owned chimpanzees in violation of an NIH moratorium on breeding. The agency has elected not to pursue sanctions on the facility for these infractions and seems to expect cooperation from New Iberia in the upcoming transition. In fact, regrettably, four chimpanzees who, as Chimp Haven veterinarians agree, are not able to safely make the transition to a new home, will remain at New Iberia, which also houses other, privately-owned chimpanzees.

However, eight of the chimpanzees on the initial transfer list are mothers, and their youngsters, who were previously considered ‘owned’ by New Iberia, will stay with them as they head to Chimp Haven, safe from future harm.

The transition will not occur all at once since new construction will be required.The chimpanzees will be transferred from the New Iberia Research Center to their new home at Chimp Haven in two phases, with the first beginning in January. A complete relocation is expected to take at least 12-15 months. The retirement of these animals will double the number of chimpanzees at Chimp Haven.

Ms. Leary emphasized, “The key is that they are now considered permanently retired and accepted into the Federal Chimpanzee Sanctuary System, so their status is clear under the provisions of the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance, and Protection Act (CHIMP Act). That is a bright line and it says that the chimps are safe.”

AAVS will continue to work so that other chimpanzees, such as those at Alamagordo, New Mexico, achieve permanent retirement. It will also continue to support sanctuaries like Chimp Haven with grants from its Sanctuary Fund, which members generously give to every year.

Ending the Use of Animals in Science