A Happier Ending: Finding Permanent Sanctuary for Laboratory Chimps

I recently read, with great happiness and relief, that nearly 200 chimps housed at the Alamogordo Primate Facility on Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico have won a temporary reprieve. Their planned transfer from Alamogordo, where they've been held since 2001, to another site in San Antonio, where they would likely be used for invasive research on a hepatitis C vaccine, has been postponed -- for the time being.

The Alamogordo colony traces its lineage to the Air Force's space chimp experiments in the late 1950s. Animal rights advocates and elected officials, including Jane Goodall, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Animal Protection of New Mexico, fought against the transfer of the chimps, and pushed for a National Academy of Sciences review of policies related to the use of chimpanzees in biomedical research. It is this review that is expected to delay the transfer for approximately two years.

However, simply delaying the transfer is not enough. These chimps have already endured decades of captivity, solitude, and invasive testing, and deserve to live out the rest of their days in peace.

Many of the Alamogordo chimps -- who should not be confused with the 266 chimpanzees the organization Save The Chimps (STC) rescued in 2002 from the Coulston Foundation, who are safe and will never be returned to biomedical research -- bear the scars of years of invasive biomedical research. They have been cut, prodded, caged, and isolated from their peers for decades.

There are many of us who question whether primate research has even yielded any substantive breakthroughs. I believe it is a source of shame for the United States that we are currently the only developed country that continues large-scale confinement of chimps in laboratories, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

Taxpayer dollars being used to relocate the chimps, construct new housing in San Antonio and provide for their daily care in the laboratory should instead be used to fund their lifetime care in a sanctuary, such as the remarkable sanctuary in Florida that Save the Chimps has created. Save the Chimps can now accommodate 300 chimpanzees on 12 three-acre islands of grass, palm trees, hills, and climbing structures, allowing the chimps to run and roam, visit with friends or find a quiet corner to relax, bask in the sun or curl up in the shade. The islands give the chimps choices and control over their own lives, choices that were lacking during their years of confinement in small cages. I had the privilege of narrating a video about Save The Chimps and its history and the work they are doing is truly phenomenal.

Save the Chimps and other wonderful organizations fighting for the welfare of chimpanzees cannot continue their efforts without public support. I encourage everyone who cares about animal welfare to contact their representatives on behalf of the Alamogordo chimps, requesting that they be retired permanently to a sanctuary, with funding provided for their lifetime care. They should also read about the Great Ape Protection Act, pending federal legislation that would retire about 500 federally owned chimpanzees currently in laboratories to permanent sanctuary.

There is no one else to speak for these chimpanzees -- it is up to us to fight for them. While we can't undo the horrific acts that were inflicted on them, we can all help write a much happier ending to their story.