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Editorial: NM’s delegation needs to make NIH do right by chimps

“Never doubt the ability of government bureaucrats to stay the course despite being ordered to stand down on plans that fail ethically, scientifically and fiscally.”

– Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board, Dec. 7, 2011

Here we go again.

In 2011, it took less than a year for the National Institutes of Health to break its promise to the American public that it would recognize medical, fiscal and ethical realities and abandon chimpanzee testing. It took another four years; relentless pressure from state and federal politicians, physicians and animal activists; and additional medical studies to get NIH to reverse course and vow to retire those chimps to sanctuary once and for all. It took another year to get many of the 200 chimps at a former testing facility in Alamogordo transferred to a 200-acre forested sanctuary in Louisiana.

And three years later, NIH is again going back on its word to do right by chimps that have given their mental and physical health to horrifying and often fruitless medical research, and by taxpayers who have been footing the bill for needless cruelty. Last month the NIH rubber-stamped 44 jail sentences for the chimps that remain at the Alamogordo Primate Facility.

For those who would dismiss the criticism as animal-lover drivel, know in 2018 you spent around $107 a day to house a chimp at APF and just $39 a day to house one at Chimp Haven in Louisiana. NIH wants to keep making monkeys out of you.

Each chimp has a lone paragraph on his/her report to justify staying at APF – a cut-and-paste job with small variations. NIH claims the 44 are too fragile to be moved. (They would be placed in transport crates, put on a truck and driven). That most are “geriatric.” (Ages range from 28-52). Forty of the reports end with the identical warning that moving “could trigger a fatal cardiac event.” A few up the ante to “acute fatal cardiac event.” All refer to a version of “long standing socially bonded group which, if disrupted, could negatively affect (his)/her psychological well-being.” (They have been kept in artificially constructed same-sex groups as small as two; send all 44 to sanctuary and the bonds can stay intact.) Most warn “physiological and psychological stressors associated with transportation, quarantine, change in social structure and human care provider” could be fatal. (Captivity is stressful – it’s why dogs go kennel crazy.) Over 10 have poorly controlled diabetes or hypertension (putting APF care into question).

In fact, nobody from NIH ever saw any of APF’s 44 chimps. They just checked the box “The Panel agrees with the recommendation of the Attending Veterinarian at the sending or receiving facilities not to relocate the animal.” If you had bonded with an animal over years – and your job depended on it staying put – what would you recommend?

It would be easier to buy what NIH is selling if it wasn’t so secretive. Last month officials rejected a Journal request to tour APF and see the chimps. Why?

Congress created Chimp Haven to right the wrongs of expensive and worthless testing. Millions in private funding has expanded it. It is staffed by experts who have integrated more than 300 animals into their fold. N.M.’s Sen. Tom Udall was integral in getting APF chimps sanctuary in 2011, and Sen. Martin Heinrich was a champion for them when he was in the House. It is time again for our delegation to force NIH to abide by the 2001 CHIMP Act that retires chimps to sanctuary. These 44 sentient beings need their help. All deserve to live out what remains of their lives in the best place possible.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.