July 26, 2010

Battle Brews Over Future For Research Chimps

Chimpanzees Moving Back Into Active Research

POSTED: 9:28 am MDT July 26, 2010
UPDATED: 10:16 am MDT July 26, 2010

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- A controversy is brewing over the future of Alamogordo's research chimpanzees.

The federal government's plan is to move the chimps out of New Mexico and back into invasive research. That has some saying the animals deserve better, especially after the contributions they have made.

In the 1950s, astronaut teams were training in New Mexico, hoping to reach new heights. But before Mercury 7 and the moon walk, came some pioneering primates. Only a small number made it to space, and some died in the process. But astrochimps Ham and Enos, who underwent extensive testing at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, saw success, making it back to Earth safely and paving the way for the humans.

The descendants of the space chimps faced their own missions, which involved experiments exposing them to illnesses such as HIV and hepatitis C as part of biomedical research.

But 2001 brought an agreement to halt the research and just house the chimps at the Alamogordo primate facility.

Now, the chimps' time may be up.

The National Institutes of Health plans to move the chimps to a Texas lab where they will again face invasive research. The NIH cited space, cost and resources as motives for the move.

Fifteen chimps have already made the trip. By early next year, the remaining chimps -- about 187 -- will move to that same site.

"Bad idea," said Gov. Bill Richardson. "I am going to fight to keep the chimpanzees in Alamogordo. That is a primary research facility. I think saying that they are doing it to save costs, to save money, is not sufficient. It will be cruel to the chimpanzees."

Richardson and other supporters want the Alamogordo facility to be turned into a chimpanzee sanctuary.

Calls to the NIH by Action 7 News have not been returned.

A spokesperson for Sen.Tom Udall said Udall is not in favor of the plan and he will be meeting with the NIH to discuss the issue.

More than 40 jobs and federal money will also be lost with this move. The contract that keeps the chimps in Alamogordo expires in May 2011.


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