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Soon, some 30 Alamogordo lab chimpanzees may be living out the rest of their days at a lush Louisiana sanctuary.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Lydia Griggsby ruled in favor of the Humane Society of the United States, among other plaintiffs, in a lawsuit arguing that all chimps housed at the Alamogordo Primate Facility should be retired and moved to a 200-acre sanctuary in Louisiana known as “Chimp Haven.”
The lawsuit, which was filed in Maryland, challenged a 2019 decision by the National Institutes of Health not to transfer to the haven almost 45 of its surplus chimps – apes owned by the federal government that are no longer being used for things like research – on the grounds that the decision violated the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection (CHIMP) Act.
The NIH made that decision despite promising in 2015 to stop research on chimps, an announcement that was made shortly after chimps were designated as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“The CHIMP Act means exactly what it says – these chimps can’t be denied the sanctuary retirement that they deserve,” Humane Society staff attorney Margie Robinson told the Journal. “It’s a win that the district court agreed with us … and we’re looking forward to the next steps for these chimps.”
“NIH should immediately initiate plans for transferring chimps,” she added.
It’s not clear when the chimps will be transferred, but that will likely come after Jan. 13, when both parties will need to come up with more information about how to resolve the issue, with Griggsby noting in her ruling that it wasn’t clear from the plaintiffs’ requests how that should be done.
The NIH did not return a call from the Journal made late Thursday afternoon.
The humane society was joined in the lawsuit by the Humane Society Legislative Fund, Animal Protection New Mexico and three individuals who previously cared for the chimps at the primate facility.
They argued that the decision to exclude some chimps from being transferred to Chimp Haven violated the federal CHIMP Act passed in 2000. Griggsby ultimately agreed, finding that the act clearly required all apes to be given sanctuary.
In its decision to exclude some chimps – most of which were being housed at the Alamogordo Primate Facility – the NIH cited health concerns, including a need for daily diabetes medication, a leg amputation and poorly controlled hypertension.
Normally, under federal animal welfare regulations, primates can’t be transported if they are ill or injured, unless it’s to receive veterinary care. But Griggsby wrote that that was the implied purpose of transferring the chimps to Chimp Haven.
Originally, 44 of NIH’s “frailest” chimps were denied transfer to Chimp Haven. But over a dozen died while waiting to be transferred to the sanctuary, said Leslie Rudloff, a chief program and policy officer for Animal Protection New Mexico. That leaves roughly 30 that are currently housed at the primate facility.