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September 18, 2002

300 Primates Used in Research To Be Retired

Florida Sanctuary Purchases Coulston Foundation and Retires Nearly 300 Chimpanzees and Monkeys

  • The chimpanzees at the Coulston Foundation suffered under "bleak conditions." iStockphoto

The Florida-based Center for Captive Chimpanzee Care (CCCC) announced on Wednesday, September 18, that it will permanently care for approximately 266 chimpanzees and 61 monkeys who were once used in research at the recently shuttered Coulston Foundation (TCF) in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

The announcement follows years of pressure from animal protection advocates who frequently denounced Coulston's long, well-documented history of poor animal care and questionable research protocols. In particular, the Mill Valley, California-based In Defense of Animals spearheaded a campaign beginning in 1993, to have the facility shut down.

In addition to facing foreclosure after its federal funding dried up (Coulston became ineligible to receive federal funding during 2001 once it no longer had an Animal Welfare Assurance on file with the National Institutes of Health), Coulston was also facing bankruptcy, nearly $500,000 in tax liens from the government and the state of New Mexico, as well as lawsuits from creditors. When the threat of foreclosure became inevitable, CCCC, headed and founded by Dr. Carole Noon, stepped in and bought Coulston's property on the condition that TCF donate all its primates to her Florida sanctuary.

The purchase of TCF was made possible by a $3.7 million grant from the Arcus Foundation located in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Many animal protection organizations also provided financial support.

"These unfortunate animals have suffered a great deal over the course of their sad lives, both from the experiments they endured and the bleak conditions under which they lived, day after day," said Dr. Martin Stephens, vice president for animal research issues at The Humane Society of the United States. "They can now begin to enjoy the kind of living conditions and care that they so richly deserve."

Among the 266 chimps slated for retirement are 16 of the famous Air Force chimpanzees (or their descendants), those who survived the research projects conducted by the U.S. space program. CCCC will reportedly care for the animals at its expanded facilities in Florida and, at least temporarily, at the former Coulston facilities.

TCF, which once housed 650 chimpanzees and was the largest captive chimpanzee colony in the world, had a history of violating federal regulations and guidelines. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) charged TCF at least four separate times with violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), ranging from inadequate veterinary care to conducting unapproved research protocols to negligent deaths.

In August 1999, TCF agreed to surrender 300 chimpanzees (reportedly almost half its population) and submit to outside oversight in order to settle AWA violations. TCF also faced possible disqualification by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for widespread and continuous violations of Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) regulations. In a second warning letter sent to TCF in October 2001, the FDA informed the lab that it would not accept studies conducted after December 1999, when the first FDA warning letter was issued to no apparent effect.

But arguably the biggest blow came several months earlier, in June 2001, when the National Institutes of Health (NIH) terminated funding to TCF, which crippled the lab because it reportedly received as much as two thirds of its annual budget from the federal agency. In December 2001, the First National Bank of Alamogordo filed a foreclosure lawsuit in state District Court, claiming that the facility owed more than $1.16 million in outstanding loans.

The future is looking vastly brighter, however, for the hundreds of primates previously held captive at TCF. During the campaign to shut down TCF, a main concern was who could care for the animals and where.

"The animal protection community is greatly moved by the efforts of Dr. Noon and her staff, the Arcus Foundation, and the various animal protection organizations that provided additional support throughout the years," said The HSUS's Stephens.

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