This will address the issues raised by the writers who have recently written to our the blog about (a) about Chimp Haven in Shreveport, Louisiana, and (b) the recent movement of certain chimpanzees to that site.

First, some background of the situation in Texas.

A terrifying raid took place on the 13th of October at Primarily Primates. Horses, ponies, and birds who had acres on which to roam were soon rounded up and taken away from the refuge. People have asked about individuals who were taken away — like Peanut. And they’ve received no answers.

This was followed by an equally frightening event just one month later.

People with vans showed up on Thursday the 16th of November. By the next day, they’d taken away seven chimpanzees who had just arrived in San Antonio earlier this year. These people claimed to have legal permission to just pack them up and take them to Louisiana.

Thus, even though there is now a court-ordered stay against moving more of the nonhuman residents out, seven chimpanzees have in fact just been sent to Chimp Haven.

How did this happen, we would ask, with a court-ordered stay in place?

Well, the people who showed up with the vans had some kind of document, and they defended what they were doing by calling this a “temporary” move. And they got away with the chimpanzees. Stephen Tello of Primarily Primates tried in vain to stop them. Government authorities believed the people with the vans.

A temporary move?

Taking nonhuman great apes from their private sanctuary home and shipping them off to Chimp Haven is no small matter. No one knowledgeable about nonhuman apes readies them for an interstate move (with the tranquilizing and stress that involves) unless they mean business.

All of this was done, remember, under a court-appointed receiver who has the duty to uphold the mission of the charity, Primarily Primates. The receiver flagrantly contradicted that mission by allowing the chimpanzees to be moved to Chimp Haven. It contradicts the mission of Primarily Primates to do this thing.

Media reports discussing this move, and one of the guests here at the blog, are referring to Chimp Haven as a “new sanctuary.” Upon examination, we find that the truth is quite different.

Chimp Haven is an illusory haven indeed, for by law it must serve as a holding area for the National Institutes of Health. The NIH’s primary function, with regard to nonhuman primates, is regulating and facilitating their use.

Readers ought to be given a clear understanding as to the dynamics and consequences involved when deciding whether to support such a critical refuge as Primarily Primates. What happens with this case will, without question, say much about whether the people of the United States will support true sanctuaries, or instead condone the continued control of government agencies and biomedical research firms over nonhuman great apes.

What’s Chimp Haven? Here’s the real story

In November 1999, Republican Representative James Greenwood of Pennsylvania introduced a bill called the “Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection Act.” Senator Bob Smith, a Republican from New Hampshire, soon followed with the Senate version of the Act.

The bill’s goal was to create a congressionally chartered holding area for some of the approximately 1,500 captive chimpanzees in laboratories in the United States. Many were not being used in active testing protocols, so they were viewed as a substantial money drain on the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

A prominent blood researcher, Dr. Alfred Prince, testified in support of the law to establish the holding area. Prince explained the long periods needed for chimpanzees to show symptoms of the diseases for which they are used. The bill set out to cut costs for the government’s research sector by having charitable donations make up a part of the funding that’s needed for their upkeep.

On December 20, 2000, it happened. President Clinton signed the CHIMP Act. The new law assigned federal funds to store chimpanzees deemed surplus to immediate experimental needs, and mandated a flow of private funds as part of the maintenance money — while chimpanzees remain under the legal control of the National Institutes of Health. In all aspects, the bill was seen as benefiting those who use chimpanzees in experiments.

Moreover, under the CHIMP Act, experiments involving these selected apes may continue through the NIH. Apes exposed to diseases with long latency intervals, such as those in hepatitis or AIDS research, are likely candidates for recall. Even if certain apes are accepted with an understanding that they will not be used, a government-declared public emergency could change everything.

Under the law, nonhuman apes are simply items of property, belonging to humans. This is why it is so very important to have private sanctuaries, separate from institutions that carry out animal experiments.

In early 2001, a public notice went out. The notice explained that the NIH wanted to award a contract to a nonprofit interested in serving as a contractor to the government under the CHIMP Act — meaning housing chimpanzees, allowing the NIH to keep their titles, and helping the NIH further by generating 25% of the yearly operational expenses.

The notice added that the chosen contractor would need “willingness to work with members of the animal protection community, NIH, and a wide variety of other interested parties.” In short, a collaboration between the charity fundraising world and the experimenter’s world. This idea was packaged to the public as a sanctuary effort.

But existing sanctuaries declined to participate in the CHIMP Act’s implementation. To do so would have put them in the disturbing position of having to express willingness to supply apes to biomedical research, if asked.

Chimp Haven receives support from individual donors, non-profits, the federal government, the pharmaceutical industry, corporate partners, and zoo and veterinary professionals. The virology testing company Bioqual, Inc. is a sponsor. Bioqual is a Rockville company that tests vaccines on nonhuman primates.

Chimp Haven’s chair is on the Council on Accreditation for the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAAALAC). Chimp Haven itself is an accredited member of the AAAALAC.

Chimp Haven is also sponsored by the Louisiana Office of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. As Chimp Haven’s site advertises:

“Become involved in a highly visible partnership with Chimp Haven – one of the Louisiana’s most unique assets and a destination for thousands. Your Chimp Haven sponsorship will bring you into association with a beloved national organization where families come together for fun and hands-on learning as well as environmental and conservation education.”

Unbelievable. Gawking at chimpanzees stuck thousands of miles from their natural habitats after being used in every imaginable laboratory experiment is now called fun.

Dear readers, that is the model for the future. Chimp Haven intends to store up to 900 chimpanzees, possibly with branches in addition to its Shreveport site. The ramifications are surreal, when one notes that the advocacy community is enabling this.

But not everyone has been quiet during this weird process of substituting zoo-research complexes for real refuges. In January 2002, The Association of Sanctuaries (TAOS), the American Sanctuary Association (ASA), Friends of Animals, and several primate advocacy groups faxed to Congress a request for repeal of the CHIMP Act. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and some other national animal-protection groups backed the NIH’s CHIMP Act, but they aren’t sanctuary groups and they won’t be taking the responsibility to house the apes themselves. Sadly, they were and still are willing to go along with the propaganda that presents Chimp Haven as though it were a true sanctuary.

On October 1, 2001, the NIH issued its formal request for proposals from organizations wishing to operate the system of sanctuaries called for by the CHIMP Act. Responding was Linda Koebner, who had ties to the research community, and had founded the non-profit called Chimp Haven, Inc. in 1995. Chimp Haven received a $10 million grant from the federal government for building. Chimp Haven began construction to hold its first 200 chimpanzees in late 2003. It’s still looking for the chimpanzees, and currently is running a drive called “150 in 2006”.

So now Chimp Haven wants PPI’s chimpanzees.

Like the apes who had been used in cognitive experiments in an Ohio lab and finally got to Primarily Primates, where they could live in privacy and benefit from Primarily Primates’ strong record of care for chimpanzees. The refuge provides lifetime care for many chimpanzees, up to the age of 60. The sanctuary’s first chimpanzee, Rudy, arrived in 1983, and is thriving today.

Will Rudy be next?

Primarily Primates’ desire to continue operating as a refuge has the support of donors who have been dedicated to Primarily Primates for many years. Unlike institutes that use nonhuman great apes or work in liaison with entities that do, Primarily Primates does not breed, sell, display, or trade animals, or agree to use animals commercially in any way. As long as they are at Primarily Primates, chimpanzees and other primates have the maximum assurance that they can live out the rest of their lives in peace. It is inherently part of Primarily Primates’ mission to support the continued existence of refuges operated as private charities, distinct from the government or the biomedical research industry.

At Friends of Animals, we maintain that nonhuman apes were put on the planet for reasons of their own. For that, we don’t expect to be welcomed with open arms by everyone in the media, but we do expect accuracy and transparency within the animal advocacy movement. And we will not accept an NIH storage site being called a sanctuary.

Lee Hall

Legal director, Friends of Animals