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Animal Abuse: Southwest National Primate Research Center’s Disturbing History

chimp in sanctuary Where does the National Institutes of Health want to send the Alamogordo chimpanzees? If the federal government’s plans go forward, these incredibly intelligent animals will go from semi-retirement in New Mexico to a facility that recently conducted a necropsy on a baboon who was still alive. But PCRM’s federal complaint seeks to halt NIH’s planned transfer of nearly 200 federally owned chimpanzees to the Southwest National Primate Research Center.

"Southwest staff was 10 minutes into a necropsy of a male baboon before discovering that the animal was still alive. This incident highlights the widespread lack of proper animal care at a facility that currently houses more than 3,000 nonhuman primates,” the doctors and scientists argue in their complaint. “Not only did staff fail to identify whether the baboon was dead before beginning the necropsy, but the committee charged with overseeing all aspects of animal care at Southwest—the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC)—failed to report the incident to facility administrators.”

The legal petition filed with Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, invokes the Chimpanzee Health Improvement Maintenance and Protection (CHIMP) Act, enacted to ensure that chimpanzees used in experiments for many years can be retired to sanctuaries. Many Alamogordo chimpanzees are elderly, have been used repeatedly for invasive procedures, and deserve a peaceful retirement, PCRM’s complaint says. For example, Flo, Guy, and James were born in 1957, 1959, and 1960, respectively.

“There can be no scientific, legal, or ethical justification for returning a 50-year-old chimpanzee to laboratory experiments,” says John J. Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C., senior medical and research adviser for PCRM. “More than five decades of experiments have shown us that chimpanzees are poor models for researching human diseases. Are we such slow learners that we now return to these outdated methods?”

Dr. Pippin and 11 other authorities, including Harvard emeritus professor Richard Wrangham, Ph.D., and University of New Mexico professor John Gluck, Ph.D., co-signed the petition.

The petition also describes dozens of other disturbing violations at the Southwest National Primate Research Center where the Alamogordo chimpanzees are scheduled to be transferred by the end of the year. The center has been cited for at least 30 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, the law that sets minimum standards of care for animals in laboratories. Recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspections detail:

  • a researcher who planned to perform multiple cesarean sections on the same animal without any justification given to the USDA;
  • inadequate housing and monitoring that allowed a young rhesus macaque to escape his enclosure at night when temperatures were below freezing; the following morning, the animal was found “moribund” and was euthanized likely due to the results of hypothermia; and
  • multiple baboons who recently escaped their enclosures while being moved, injuring employees.

The mothers of some Alamogordo chimpanzees now live in a sanctuary in Washington State—Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest—and have come to the attention of Sen. Maria Cantwell. Sen. Cantwell recently introduced the Great Ape Protection Act (GAPA), S. 3694, which would advance medical research by phasing out wasteful and misleading chimpanzee experiments and releasing federally owned chimpanzees to sanctuaries. A parallel House bill, H.R. 1326, has gained significant momentum and now has 151 co-sponsors.

John J. Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C.

John J. Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C.

PCRM Online, October 2010

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