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March 4, 2009

Latest HSUS Undercover Investigation Reveals Abuse of Chimps, Other Primates in Federally Funded Research Laboratory

Group Identifies Hundreds of Possible Federal Law Violations, Notes Millions of Tax Dollars Wasted to Warehouse Chimps for Decades

The Humane Society of the United States

A nine-month undercover investigation by The Humane Society of the United States has pulled back the curtain on the secretive, federally-funded New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana, revealing routine and unlawful mistreatment of hundreds of chimpanzees and other primates. The investigation of New Iberia Research Center is the most comprehensive ever at any major primate research facility and has resulted in a 108-page complaint to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, alleging a minimum of 338 possible violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act at the center. The law sets minimal standards for the treatment of animals in labs.

The HSUS’ videotape evidence shows severe distress of primates in isolation: They engage in self-mutilation by tearing gaping wounds into their arms and legs, a behavior that could be the result of New Iberia Research Center’s failure to provide adequate environmental enhancement. Routine procedures, such as the use of powerful and painful dart guns and frightening squeeze cages for sedation, are shown causing acute psychological distress to chimpanzees and monkeys. Infant monkeys scream as they are forcibly removed from their mothers so that tubes can be forced down their throats. Altogether, the investigation reveals animals forced to endure anxiety and misery behind the razor wire of the research facility.

“These experiments come at an enormous short-term and long-term expense to taxpayers, and an even greater expense in suffering and anguish to chimpanzees and other primates forced to live in this pitiful laboratory," said Wayne Pacelle, The HSUS’ president and CEO. “Our investigation found an abject failure on NIRC’s part to attend to the psychological well-being of primates as dictated by law, a lax USDA attitude about enforcing that law, and a knowing and gross violation of the federal government’s pledge to stop breeding more chimpanzees for research.”

New Iberia Research Center cages about 6,000 monkeys and 325 chimpanzees on its 100 acres, but in the span of nine months, The HSUS’ investigator saw only about 20 of the chimpanzees used in active studies. The majority of chimpanzees at the facility appeared to be warehoused or used for breeding – two activities that cost American taxpayers millions of dollars, even at a time of fiscal crisis and when no other developed nation uses chimpanzees in experiments.

Jane Goodall, Ph.D., DBE, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace said, “In no lab I have visited have I seen so many chimpanzees exhibit such intense fear. The screaming I heard when chimpanzees were being forced to move toward the dreaded needle in their squeeze cages was, for me, absolutely horrifying.”  (Read the statement by Dr. Jane Goodall.)

One of the chimpanzees at the facility — Karen — was taken from the wild and has been housed in a primarily barren laboratory setting since 1958, when Dwight Eisenhower was president. The HSUS is calling upon Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal to release her to a sanctuary – along with many other elderly chimps who were taken from the wild decades ago. Another chimpanzee — 28-year-old Siafu — attempted to communicate with center staff by “signing.” Chimpanzee expert Roger Fouts believes Siafu’s frustrated, repetitive movements were crude begging gestures, based on his viewing of the HSUS tape.

Investigation Reveals Failings of Three Federal Agencies

In addition to The HSUS’ 108-page complaint filed with the USDA, in part revealing the agency’s lax enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act at New Iberia Research Center, the group is calling on the National Institutes of Health to stop its practice of paying the laboratory millions of dollars to produce infant chimpanzees despite the agency’s explicit policy against funding chimpanzee breeding. “This shows an appalling lack of attention by federal regulators and laboratory managers to their responsibilities,” said Martin Stephens, Ph.D., The HSUS’ vice president for Animal Research Issues. “The only people who support continued breeding of chimpanzees are those who benefit from bilking the U.S. taxpayer.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues a 20-year-old policy that allows captive chimps to be used in invasive research, due to a highly unusual “split listing” under the federal Endangered Species Act. In 1989, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed chimps as “endangered” in the wild, but merely “threatened” in captivity, and specifically authorized the continued use of chimps in captivity for biomedical research, the pet trade and roadside zoos. All chimps should be consistently listed as “endangered,” and thus only used in captivity for purposes that benefit the conservation of the species. No use of the chimps at New Iberia Research Center could possibly be considered useful for that purpose.

Timeline

  • April 2008: The Great Ape Protection Act was introduced to phase out the use of chimpanzees in invasive research and retire federally-owned chimpanzees to sanctuaries.
  • December 2007-September 2008: An HSUS investigator worked undercover at the New Iberia Research Center of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
  • December 2007: The “Chimp Haven is Home Act” became law. It prevents chimpanzees formerly used in biomedical experimentation from being pulled out of retirement and put back into laboratories.
  • May 2007: The National Center for Research Resources of the National Institutes of Health made permanent its 1995 moratorium on the breeding of government owned-chimpanzees and any National Institutes of Health funding of chimpanzee breeding.
  • December 2000: The Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection (CHIMP) Act, which created a national chimpanzee sanctuary system, became law.
  • 1990: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed wild chimpanzees “endangered,” but designated captive chimps as “threatened.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued an accompanying special rule that allows captive chimpanzees to be used in invasive research.
  • 1985: Congress passed amendments to the Animal Welfare Act which, among other mandates, called for development of standards “for a physical environment adequate to promote the psychological well-being of primates.”

Facts

  • New Iberia Research Center is owned and operated by the state of Louisiana (via the University of Louisiana system).
  • About 200 infant chimpanzees have been born at New Iberia Research Center since 1995.
  • New Iberia Research Center has received $48 million in federal funding since 2000.
  • There are more than 112,000 nonhuman primates being kept in more than 200 U.S. laboratories, with more than 1,000 chimpanzees in nine labs (about half are owned by the U.S. government).
  • About 135 government-owned chimpanzees have already been retired to the national chimpanzee sanctuary system, run by Chimp Haven in Shreveport, La.
  • Chimps share about 98 percent of our DNA and are more closely related to humans than gorillas.
  • Almost all of the nations using chimpanzees as test subjects have retired them to sanctuaries. Only the United States, and the West African country of Gabon, continue to experiment on these high-functioning animals.
  • Chimps can make tools, learn and teach American Sign Language, and do simple arithmetic including fractions. Capable of altruistic and unselfish behavior, they express a wide range of emotions and have been judged to be as intelligent as 5-year-old human children.
  • In a 2004 whistleblower lawsuit, a senior New Iberia Research Center employee accused the center of covering up violations of the Animal Welfare Act and incidents of deliberate cruelty. Allegations include the scalding a chimp and the burning of others with a lighter. Several monkeys were said to have died from exposure to cold weather. The case is still working its way through the courts. 

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the web at humanesociety.org.

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