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March 12, 2009

The HSUS Asks New Iberia Research Center to Retire Elderly Chimps to Sanctuary

The Humane Society of the United States

In a letter to the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana, The Humane Society of the United States is issuing an urgent plea to retire 26 elderly chimpanzees at the facility who have been languishing in confinement in laboratories for decades.

Last week, The HSUS released the results of a nine-month undercover investigation of NIRC. The videotaped evidence shows severe distress of primates in isolation: Some engaged in self-mutilation by tearing gaping wounds into their arms and legs. Routine procedures, such as the use of powerful and painful dart guns and frightening squeeze cages for sedation, were shown causing acute psychological distress to chimpanzees and monkeys. Infant monkeys screamed as they were forcibly removed from their mothers so that tubes could be forced down their throats. In broad terms, the investigation revealed animals forced to endure anxiety and misery, in a nation where our sensibilities about animals are evolving and our knowledge about the psychological needs of chimpanzees and other primates has progressed measurably.

As a result of the investigation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has opened an investigation to examine the facility and review a 108-page complaint by The HSUS alleging 338 possible violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act at the center. The law sets minimal standards for the treatment of animals in labs.

Also last week, an NIRC spokeswoman indicated the facility would like to send more of its 300+ chimpanzees to sanctuaries. Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS, expressed his appreciation for NIRC's recognition of the need to place the animals in sanctuaries that can provide a high level of care.

"We are particularly concerned about the fate of the elderly chimpanzees who have spent decades in stark laboratory settings," Pacelle wrote in a letter sent today to Thomas J. Rowell, DVM, director of the NIRC.

The transfer of the 26 elderly chimpanzees is a matter of decency, especially for animals who have sacrificed so much for people. They have languished in research laboratories for decades and now the least they deserve is to live out their remaining days in a sanctuary. It costs approximately $20,000 per year to warehouse a single chimpanzee in a laboratory for one year, and the federal government has given tens of millions of dollars to NIRC for chimp research and maintenance. For far less, the chimps could live out the rest of their lives in a sanctuary — saving taxpayers a substantial amount, and improving the quality of the chimps' lives.

With modest additional funding, Chimp Haven of Shreveport, La. would have room for the animals and be able to provide a high standard of care as well as social enrichment that these highly intelligent animals have not received at NIRC. The sanctuary was established by the federal government – as a result of the Chimpanzee Health Improvement Maintenance and Protection (CHIMP) Act signed into law in 2000 and backed by The HSUS - for the specific purpose of retiring chimpanzees who had been formerly used in research. Federal funding that NIRC receives to house those chimpanzees could be transferred to Chimp Haven.

The letter identified two groups of chimpanzees that are in urgent need of transfer to sanctuary. The oldest, a female named Karen, was captured from the wild in 1958. The others were captured between 1958 and 1970 and are probably all at least 40 years old. "They are senior citizens, and they deserve better," added Pacelle.

The HSUS also strongly supports the passage of the Great Ape Protection Act, H.R. 1326, which phases out invasive research on chimpanzees and prohibits any further breeding of chimps for research. The bill was introduced in Congress last week by U.S. Reps. Ed Towns, D-N.Y., Dave Reichert, R-Wash., Jim Langevin, D-R.I., and Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md.

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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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