NIH lab chimpanzee retirees arrive at "Chimp Haven" in Louisiana

A former research chimpanzee is seen at the Chimp Haven in Keithville, La.

New Orleans The first chimpanzees from a south Louisiana lab have arrived at the national sanctuary for retired federal research chimps, with a recommendation for hundreds more to be sent there from other laboratories around the country.

Nine chimps came to Chimp Haven outside Shreveport on Tuesday from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's New Iberia Research Center, which no longer has an NIH chimp research contract. Seven more are expected Thursday and another 95 will arrive over the coming months, sanctuary officials said.

As the New Iberia animals arrived, a National Institutes of Health committee was recommending that all but about 50 of the agency's hundreds of research chimpanzees should be retired to the national sanctuary in Keithville, and all of them should have plenty of room to play.

Chimp Haven was created on 200 acres of a Caddo Parish park in Keithville.

"We should see more than 300 chimpanzees getting moved to the federal sanctuary system," said Kathleen Conlee, the Humane Society of the United States' vice president for animal research issues.

The NIH proposal, which will go to the agency's director after a 60-day period for public comment, also calls for major cuts in grants to study chimps in laboratories and no return to breeding the great apes for research.

"The report made it very clear that the federal sanctuary system is the most appropriate place for these animals," Conlee said.

She said she was disappointed by the recommendation to keep a group of about 50 in case further research on chimpanzees is approved.

"But I'm glad they made clear those animals should be kept to much higher standards than they are currently being kept in," she said.

Chimpanzees should be kept in groups of at least seven, with about 1,000 square feet of outdoor space per chimp — roughly one-sixth of an acre for a group of seven, according to the proposal.

The space must include year-round outdoor access with a variety of natural surfaces such as grass, dirt and mulch, and enough climbing space to let all members of large troupes travel, feed and rest well above the ground, and with material to let them build new nests each day, the report said.

Chimp Haven's enclosures range from a quarter-acre to five acres, some of them forested and all with climbing structures.

The announcement of its first animals from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's New Iberia Research Center was delayed a day to keep stress on them to a minimum, officials said.

"Understandably, the chimpanzees are nervous when they arrive, and we do everything possible to ease their stress. That includes limiting the number of people in the area to only those who are required to help with the chimpanzees. We also must minimize the risks of the chimpanzees being exposed to communicable diseases," veterinarian Raven Jackson said in the news release.

A $30 million cap on total spending for construction and care of Chimp Haven's retirees has been looming. That would stop NIH from contributing 75 percent of the $13,000 annual cost to care for each federal chimpanzee.

Conlee said the Humane Society will urge Congress to move money now spent on research contracts to Chimp Haven. The sanctuary gives the animals better care for less money than the labs are paid, she said.

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