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DISGRACEFUL: U.S. government N.I.H. lab refuses to release ‘retired’ chimps to sanctuary as promised

In 2015 NIH decided that all their research chimps would be permanently retired to a sanctuary. But later reversed it, saying the chimps were too frail to be moved.

JAMES GORMAN: Montessa, a 46-year-old chimpanzee, has been through a lot. The first record of her life is the note that she was purchased from an importer in 1975 for the research colony in New Mexico at the Holloman Air Force Base, when she was about a year old. She’s still there… Over the past 45 years, Montessa has been pregnant five times and given birth four times…

It’s now called the Alamogordo Primate Facility, and Montessa, who was probably born in the wild and captured for sale, is just one of 39 chimpanzees living in limbo there, all of them the property of the National Institutes of Health… Publicly available records don’t show much about what kind of experiments were performed on her, but she was involved in a hormone study one year, and in two other years underwent a number of liver biopsies.

When Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the N.I.H., decided in 2015 that all federally owned chimps would be permanently retired from research, it seemed that Montessa might get a chance to wander around on the grass at Chimp Haven in Louisiana, the designated and substantially N.I.H.- supported sanctuary… The retirement plan had one caveat: Any chimpanzees considered too frail to be moved because of age, illness or both would stay at Alamogordo…

But a year ago, the N.I.H. decided that Montessa and 38 other chimpanzees could not move to Chimp Haven, relying on Alamogordo staff recommendations that the chimps, many with diabetes or heart disease, would suffer and might even die if they were transferred to the sanctuary… Montessa is said to have heart issues, although the available medical records leave that open to dispute, according to Laura Bonar, chief program and policy officer at Animal Protection of New Mexico.

She and other animal rights activists are not satisfied with assessments by the Alamogordo staff or by the way N.I.H. made its decision. Not only animal welfare groups, but also congressional lawmakers denounced the decision, and several wrote a letter urging the N.I.H. to reverse course, review the process and find a way to move the chimps…

Kathleen Conlee, vice president for animal research at the Humane Society of the United States, said, “I’ll always think of Dr. Collins as having a legacy of doing what’s right by the chimps.” She’s not so sure any longer, now that the agency has reneged on its pledge to retire the animals at Chimp Haven. The chimps, she said, “deserve that opportunity after all they’ve been through.”

Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, is more blunt: “N.I.H. has dropped the ball.” An advocate of the chimps’ well-being for more than 10 years, the senator added, “I don’t have any faith that the N.I.H. is using taxpayer resources wisely for the humane treatment of these chimps.”

According to the most recent N.I.H. information on the cost of maintaining chimpanzees, the agency spent about $7.6 million in the 2019 fiscal year. Senator Udall and Animal Protection of New Mexico say the N.I.H. pays Alamogordo roughly three times what it pays Chimp Haven, which is around $42 a day per chimp…

But James M. Anderson, the director of the N.I.H. Division of Program Coordination, Planning and Strategic Initiatives, who is in charge of N.I.H. support of chimpanzees, rejected requests to revisit the decision. “No, N.I.H. will not review or reconsider the process,” Dr. Anderson said in an email. “The determinations of the panel are final. Animals will not be further assessed regarding relocation.” In short, the chimps now at Alamogordo will die at Alamogordo. SOURCE…

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