LAS CRUCES — Advocates calling for the permanent retirement of 169 government-owned chimpanzees housed at a facility on Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo applauded recommendations made by a National Institutes of Health advisory group Tuesday.
The group said that the majority of NIH-owned chimpanzees should be retired from research and transferred to a federal sanctuary system.
“Planning should start immediately to expand current facilities to accommodate these chimpanzees,” says the report from the Working Group on the Use of Chimpanzees in NIH-Supported Research.
In addition, after the NIH retires more than 90 percent of the 670 chimps the agency owns or supports, a small colony of about 50 chimpanzees should be set aside for future research if it meets new Institute of Medicine principles and criteria.
Those chimps should be housed in appropriate settings, in groups of at least seven individuals, with at least 1,000 square feet for each chimp and with year-round access to the outdoors.
In a statement, Kathleen Conlee, vice president of animal research issues at the Humane Society of the United States, said the organization was “extremely pleased that these experts confirm what the public has been urging: move away from invasive chimpanzee experimentation and release these animals to the most appropriate setting available — sanctuary.”
Pushed by New Mexico senators Tom Udall and the now-retired Jeff Bingaman, the NIH in December commissioned a study by the Institute of Medicine to assess the need to use chimpanzees in federally supported research.
In December 2011, the IOM committee concluded that while chimps had been a useful research model in the past, recently developed alternatives had left chimps largely unnecessary as research subjects. The NIH then assembled the Working Group advisory committee to develop a plan to carry out the IOM committee’s recommendations.
The NIH will accept public comment on the advisory panel’s recommendations for 60 days after which the NIH director will make a final decision about how to proceed.
Udall called the advisory group’s report “a very positive step that the NIH is taking seriously the recommendations produced from the scientific study we commissioned.”
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal