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October 24, 2012

Meet Flo, a Chimpanzee Used in Research

Flo remains in limbo in a New Mexico facility

  • Flo was used in harmful research experiments for at least 20 years. Alamogordo Primate Facility 

  • Flo, seen here from a distance, benefits from the upgraded facilities at Alamogordo Primate Facility. Animal Protection of New Mexico 

In late September 2010, Flo, the oldest chimpanzee at the Alamogordo Primate Facility in New Mexico, turned 53 amidst a controversy over her future and the future of nearly 200 chimpanzees at the facility.

Despite having not been used in invasive experiments for nearly a decade, the Alamogordo chimpanzees were in danger of being sent to a laboratory in Texas where they could, once again, be used in harmful research.

Difficult years 

While not much is known about Flo’s early life, her records indicate that she likely spent a large portion of it at a zoo in Tennessee before being sent to the now infamous Coulston Foundation in New Mexico in 1972. Records paint a picture of an extremely difficult and stressful life for Flo at Coulston. She had four children, all of whom were taken from her as infants. She was chemically immobilized at least 115 times and endured many blood draws and biopsies as part of the experiments she was involved in. Flo is now considered geriatric and suffers from anemia and cardiac arrhythmias. Her records indicate that she is unsuitable for anesthesia, which would likely be required for her to be moved.*

Life after Coulston

In 2001, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) officially took over ownership of half of the chimpanzees at the Coulston Foundation, including Flo, following years of Animal Welfare Act violations at the laboratory. (The remaining Coulston chimpanzees were retired to sanctuary.) The NIH then hired Charles River Laboratories to oversee the group, which had been moved to the Alamogordo Primate Facility located on Holloman Air Force Base.

Though the NIH contract with Charles River states that the chimpanzees at Alamogordo can be sent to laboratories that request them, no invasive research can take place at Alamogordo, nor can chimpanzees be returned to Alamogordo if they are sent away to be used in invasive research. Therefore, none of the 186 chimpanzees currently residing at the facility have been used in research for almost a decade. But in the summer of 2010, NIH announced a proposal that would change all that—a plan to move the chimpanzees to a laboratory in Texas. Almost immediately after the plan was made public, NIH moved 15 of the 202 chimpanzees from Alamogordo to the Texas laboratory.

Reprieve at last

Six months later, in January 2011, thanks to the work of animal welfare organizations, legislators, and animal lovers, NIH announced that they had temporarily postponed their plan to transfer Flo and the other remaining Alamogordo chimpanzees to the Texas laboratory. They also annouced that no invasive research would be done on the chimpanzees at Alamogordo while the Institute of Medicine examined the necessity of using chimpanzees in behavioral and biomedical research, a review that was completed in December 2011.

In its groundbreaking report, the Institute of Medicine found that chimpanzees are “largely unnecessary” for biomedical and behavioral research and, further, did not identify any area of biomedical research for which chimpanzee use is essential. The NIH immediately accepted the recommendations of the IOM committee, halted the awarding of any new grants involving chimpanzee use and began a process to implement the report recommendations.

This is an important victory in the battle to ensure that Flo and the other Alamogordo chimpanzees get the retirement they deserve, but there is more work to be done. NIH is currently in the process of determining the fate of federally owned chimpanzees. Please contact NIH and urge them to permanently retire all the Alamogordo chimpanzees—including the 15 who have already been moved—under the care of an appropriate sanctuary, ensuring that these chimpanzees are never again used in harmful research.

* This information was compiled from laboratory records and documents obtained by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Most of the information is also included in a petition filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture by Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico. The full document can be found here.

 View all "Meet the Chimps" profiles »

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