U.S. Lab Chimps Stuck in Retirement Limbo

Dr. Collins stated that chimpanzees are our closest relatives and “deserving of special attention,” and activists embraced what seemed to many of them an act of courage. Kathleen Conlee, vice president for animal research at the Humane Society of the United States, said, “I’ll always think of Dr. Collins as having a legacy of doing what’s right by the chimps.”

She’s not so sure any longer, now that the agency has reneged on its pledge to retire the animals at Chimp Haven. The chimps, she said, “deserve that opportunity after all they’ve been through.”

Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, is more blunt: “N.I.H. has dropped the ball.” An advocate of the chimps’ well-being for more than 10 years, the senator added, “I don’t have any faith that the N.I.H. is using taxpayer resources wisely for the humane treatment of these chimps.”

According to the most recent N.I.H. information on the cost of maintaining chimpanzees, the agency spent about $7.6 million in the 2019 fiscal year. Senator Udall and Animal Protection of New Mexico say the N.I.H. pays Alamogordo roughly three times what it pays Chimp Haven, which is around $42 a day per chimp. The N.I.H. offered a different calculation, based on a nine-year average rather than 2019, putting the Alamogordo cost at about $75 a day, and Chimp Haven at about $45 a day in federal funds, with another $15 per day raised by Chimp Haven from donations.

Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard, Democrat of California, another supporter of chimp retirement, said she was “deeply disappointed” in Dr. Collins’s actions. The lab facility cannot meet the “complex physical and psychological needs of the chimpanzees,” she said, and she urged Dr. Collins to “do the humane thing and release these chimpanzees to sanctuary.”

There is no question that the lives of the Alamogordo chimps have improved since the days when they were medical research subjects, subject to biopsies and other procedures as Montessa was. The chimps now at Alamogordo are not locked away inside and don’t suffer invasive experiments. They are with caretakers and veterinarians who have looked after them for years.

But information in real time about their well-being is difficult to unearth. Ms. Bonar, of Animal Protection of New Mexico, has had to file Freedom of Information requests to get some medical records, and obtained others through congressional staff members.

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