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April 16, 2013

Haven Can't Wait, Page 3

Differing opinions and lack of funding delay chimpanzees' retirement to sanctuary

All Animals magazine, May/June 2013

  • Caged chimps at New Iberia Research Center, photographed during a 2008 undercover investigation.  The HSUS

(page 3 of 5)

Chimps in limbo

If there’s a downside to working at Chimp Haven, it’s this: With a geriatric population, death is a sadly regular occurrence. “It’s like losing a friend,” says LaBarbera. “The only way we can deal with it is [to remember] that they got to be here, even if it was for a short time.”

The true tragedies are the animals who never made it to sanctuary. Like Sterling, who was born in a lab, ripped away from his mother at birth, infected with hepatitis C, and used in hundreds of blood draws, countless liver biopsies, and other procedures that required him to be anesthetized monthly. Not surprisingly, the depressed animal mutilated his hands, face, and belly. He died at New Iberia in August 2010, after a life marked by near constant suffering.

For Sterling and two chimps who died just months before they would have been transferred to Chimp Haven this year, the chance for sanctuary simply came too late.

With this reality in mind, every delay in moving these animals to sanctuary is agonizing for their advocates. Aside from the 100-plus New Iberia chimpanzees, approximately 350 government-owned chimps and 450 privately owned ones live in U.S. labs. While scientific opinion is shifting in favor of retiring the animals, and though only a fraction are still used in experiments, some researchers are pushing to keep them in labs. “I think of the chimpanzees in the same way that I think of a library,” Texas laboratory director John VandeBerg told a reporter last year. “There are many books in the library that will never be used this year or next year. Many of them might never be used again. But we don’t know which ones will be needed tomorrow ... or the year after.”

For the government-owned chimps, including the ones still at New Iberia, another roadblock is funding. Under current federal law, the government pays 75 percent of the daily care costs for its retired research chimps and 90 percent of habitat construction costs. (Private donations cover the rest.) But the law limited government expenditures to a cumulative $30 million—a number that’s nearly been reached after 13 years.

The HSUS is urging Congress to authorize funds to expand sanctuary capacity. Since it’s more expensive to keep chimps in labs, moving them to sanctuaries would save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars over the animals’ lifetimes.

Nevertheless, getting the government to fund new habitats could take time that many chimps don’t have. For this reason, The HSUS, other animal welfare organizations, and individuals have donated money to jumpstart construction at Chimp Haven. But millions more will be needed to get all the chimps to sanctuary.

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