Rosie, Theo, Opal, Elijah and others suffered years of invasive testing including chemical immobilizations, force-feeding and infections such as hepatitis C and HIV at an Alamogordo research facility. They were later moved to a lab in San Antonio, Texas.
An $85,500 grant by the New Mexico Community Foundation’s Chimpanzee Sanctuary Fund – a project of Animal Protection of New Mexico and The Humane Society of the United States – paid to move the chimps to Chimp Haven, a 200-acre sanctuary in Shreveport, La., beginning in April.
All 19 are at home there now.
“They are getting the experience of getting to be chimps for the first time in their lives,” said Laura Bonar, Animal Protection of New Mexico program director. “Rosie in particular, I’ve been looking over her medical records for years and knowing her past history – with all the liver biopsies and blood draws, the seizures she began having when she was 8 – instead of looking at all these grim health records, to be able to see her in sanctuary was almost a surreal moment.”
During the 1990s New Mexico held the largest captive colony of research chimps in the country, according to Bonar.
In 2013, the National Institutes of Health placed strict constraints on chimpanzee testing, limiting research to a single colony of 50 chimps. Then in November last year, NIH Director Francis Collins decided the government would no longer maintain a colony of research chimpanzees.
About 140 chimpanzees are still being housed in a research facility in Alamogordo on Holloman Air Force Base. They haven’t undergone invasive testing since 2001, Bonar said, but prior to that, those chimpanzees endured “a gruesome variety of procedures.” Animal Protection of New Mexico is turning its efforts toward retiring those chimps to sanctuary, as well.
Bonar said she expects NIH to soon issue a formal plan for retiring chimps that remain at labs to sanctuary, and she hopes to see the Alamogordo chimps begin moving to retirement this fall.
“These chimpanzees have never experienced what it’s like to live in a normal chimp group,” she said. “When they get to sanctuary, it’s about their needs coming first.”
The Chimpanzee Sanctuary Fund has raised nearly $400,000 to put toward retiring chimpanzees from research facilities. It costs about $15,000 a year to maintain a chimp in sanctuary.