For now, the Alamogordo chimps will not go back to the lab

Back in August, I wrote about a group of chimpanzees who had spent years of their lives – in many cases, decades – as research animals in New Mexico’s Coulston Foundation laboratory. The chimps were subjected to painfully invasive testing and cruel experimentation, including needless surgery, extended periods in 150-degree temperatures, and isolation and sensory deprivation. In 2001, concerns about the chimps’ welfare led to the closing of the Coulston Foundation.

By 2002, many of the animals were moved to the Save the Chimps sanctuary in Alamogordo, NM, finally receiving reprieve from the cruelty they so long endured. And then, last year, it was announced that the Alamogordo chimps (still “property” of the U.S. government) were being sent back to the lab, this time in San Antonio, Texas. Their nightmare was to begin again.

Fortunately, a few courageous elected officials (Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Tom Udall (D-NM), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and NM Governor Bill Richardson) and a groundswell of regular citizens (including many DogTime readers) spoke up. We wrote letters and called our senators and congresspersons. We demanded these chimps be saved from further mental and physical suffering, and we succeeded.

On Tuesday the National Institute of Health (NIH) announced that orders to send 186 of the Alamogordo chimps to a Texas laboratory have been postponed. While the saga is not completely over, this news is cause for major celebration. The next step is for the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to review and advise on the current research policies, a process that will take two years. But there is reason to believe that NAS will recommend against ever reassigning the chimps to the lab.

According to Care2.com’s Sharon Seltzer, “The U.S. and Gabon are the only countries to use chimps in invasive research.” I’m not naïve enough to think the practice has been eliminated simply for ethical reasons. The fact is, this type of research has yielded little information that can be transferred to the human experience – it’s not worth the financial expense. Still, I can’t help but hope we’re headed in the right direction, that one day the ethical cost will be part of the equation.

In the meantime, thanks to everyone who took action.