Monday, September 23, 2002

"Forty-eight chimps, highly social animals, are now housed individually in undersized cages."


Move Ends Long Battle with Animal-Rights Groups over Treatment of the Primates
by Rene Romo, Southern Bureau Copyright 2002 Albuquerque Journal (September 22)

The Coulston Foundation, an Alamogordo biomedical research facility, got out of chimpanzee-related research last week and turned over its remaining 288 chimps to one of its harshest critics.

The handover by the facility's leader, Frederick Coulston, was a victory for animal-rights activists who have long sought the retirement of the primates -- close relatives of humans -- from use in biomedical research.

"He (Coulston) is out of the chimp business," said Carole Noon, a primatologist who heads the Florida-based Center for Captive Chimpanzee Care (CCCC), which acquired 288 chimpanzees and 61 monkeys from the research facility.

Noon's group used a $3.7 million grant from the Michigan-based Arcus Foundation to buy the Coulston Foundation's land and buildings on LaVelle Road in Alamogordo. In addition, Coulston agreed to give CCCC the chimps and monkeys.

Noon's long-term plans call for moving as many chimps as possible -- perhaps half -- to the group's 200-acre sanctuary near Fort Pierce, Florida.

But first, Noon's group will have to evaluate the cost of potential renovations to the Alamogordo site, improvements to the Florida site and the ongoing costs of care as well as finding sources of funding.

The Arcus Foundation's founder, Jon Stryker, said the organization committed to a dollar-for-dollar matching grant for operational support through 2003.

"She (Noon) has taken on a humongous responsibility, and I hope she can follow through on it," said Carol Asvestas, director of the private National Sanctuary for Retired Research Primates, which houses 22 chimps at a roughly 100-acre site near San Antonio, Texas. "I can't imagine attempting to do what she's doing. She's a very gutsy lady."

With the acquisition of Coulston's animals, the CCCC now operates the nation's largest sanctuary for retired chimps, several primatologists said.

Coulston did not grant the Journal an interview. But in an interview with the Associated Press, the 87-year-old Coulston said he released his chimp colonies to give himself a "chance to go back and do some of the things I'd like to do before I retire."

Foundation spokesman Don McKinney said Coulston would move into new research areas.

But animal-rights activists had another take on the development.

California-based In Defense of Animals, Coulston's most-persistent critic, said its eight-year-long campaign had spurred unprecedented regulatory action by the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and had pushed the Coulston Foundation to the brink of financial ruin.

The USDA, often spurred by the group's complaints, charged the Coulston Foundation with violations of the Animal Welfare Act four times, with some charges stemming from the allegedly negligent deaths of ten chimps.

In May 2000, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) took title to 288 of Coulston's roughly 650 chimps, then the world's largest captive chimp population. A year later, the Charles River Corp. was given management responsibility for those apes that are housed at Holloman Air Force Base.

Last year, the FDA warned Coulston that it would not accept study results while violations of Good Laboratory Practice standards continued at the Alamogordo facility. Around the same time, the NIH -- which had provided much of the agency's annual income -- discontinued all financial support.

Last December, the First National Bank of Alamogordo filed foreclosure papers against Coulston for more than $1.1 million in outstanding loans.

Noon's group had battled against Coulston in the past. The group, whose board included world-renowned primate researcher Jane Goodall, sued the U.S. Air Force in 1998 over 141 chimps given to the Coulston Foundation. The chimps were descendants of those used in the United States' early space efforts.

After a yearlong battle in federal court, Coulston gave the CCCC 21 chimps. Instead of living in cages, the chimps spend most of their days outdoors at the Florida sanctuary, in natural family units.

In the past year, Coulston has sold several chimps to a New Hampshire wildlife park and an animal entertainment outfit.

Over the summer, the Rio Grande Zoo acquired ten chimps from the Coulston Foundation for $100,000, said Ray Darnell, director of the Albuquerque Biological Park. The zoo, which has not had chimps since the early 1970s, will display the family after completion of a new $2.5 million chimpanzee exhibit.

Unlike the chimps at Holloman Air Force Base, who were exposed to or infected with HIV or hepatitis, none of the chimps acquired by Noon have been infected or subjected to medical experiments, Noon said.

Noon said that there will be no public access to the hundreds of Alamogordo chimps, most of whom are caged in groups of four to six, with males separated from females. Forty-eight chimps, highly social animals, are now housed individually in undersized cages, Noon said.

"It's really dismal here," Noon said. "I'd hate for anyone here to see these magnificent beings in these conditions."

Veterinarians will perform vasectomies on the male chimps so they can be introduced into family units with females without breeding, Noon said.

"I'll try to evaluate what he have here and see if we can renovate it," Noon said.