NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The U.S. sanctuary for retired federal research chimpanzees is about to nearly double its population when it receives 113 new primates from a Louisiana lab that no longer has a National Institutes of Health contract to conduct animal research.
NIH originally planned to send only 10 of the chimps currently housed at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette's New Iberia Research Center in New Iberia to Chimp Haven, a sanctuary in Keithville, La., near Shreveport, that currently harbors 121 animals.
It revisited its plan, however, after several nonprofit groups agreed to donate or help raise $2.3 million of the $5.1 million Chimp Haven is trying to raise for expansion.
The federal government owns or supports about 670 chimpanzees, including those at the New Iberia research center and at Chimp Haven. NIH decided late last year that chimpanzees should be used in research only as a last resort, so more are likely to be retired.
Half of the 113 chimps in New Iberia will be relocated from the lab in the next four months, with the rest to arrive in 12 to 18 months as expansion continues, said Chimp Haven director Linda Brent.
"This is an historic day for research chimpanzees in the United States," Brent said. "We look forward to continued cooperation between the NIH, Chimp Haven and animal protection organizations to retire many more chimpanzees in the future."
Eight of the chimps are youngsters that will be accompanied by their mothers, said Kathleen Conlee, director of program management for the Humane Society of the United States. "To us that's very exciting news."
Of the 121 chimps currently at Chimp Haven, the sanctuary covers the full $13,000 annual cost to maintain 15 that were once privately owned, while the government pays 75 percent of that cost for the remaining, federally owned animals.
Other federally owned chimps are in two laboratories in Texas and at an Air Force base in Alamagordo, Texas.
Chimp Haven's expansion project was derailed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005; Brent and others revived it last month when they kicked off the $5.1 million fundraising campaign.
The Humane Society of the United States is giving $500,000 for the expansion, The New England Antivivisection Society $100,000, and The National Anti-Vivisection Society $25,000. The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health — an independent nonprofit created by Congress — will help raise money.
"We do hope that this will lead others to join us in raising these funds — especially the pharmaceutical companies and others who have used chimpanzees in the past," Conlee said. "We think it's time for them to step forward and give back to these animals."
The National Institutes of Health has no money available to dedicate to the expansion — and if it did, such spending would go past a $30 million cap set when Congress approved Chimp Haven as the national sanctuary for chimpanzees used in federal research, said Cathy Hudson, deputy director for scientific outreach and culture.
The New Iberia Research Center where the 113 chimps are currently housed is not renewing a contract with the NIH to use the chimps for research.
James Anderson, NIH deputy director for program coordination, planning, and strategic initiatives, said during a conference call Tuesday that the contract's termination "had absolutely nothing to do" with the way the animals were treated.
In 2009, the Humane Society said its investigation found 338 violations of federal law and policy, from substandard care to the illegal breeding of chimpanzees, at the New Iberia lab. Vets from both Chimp Haven and the research lab agree that four of the chimps are too ill right now to move. And a fifth has died since NIH announced in September that the animals would be retired from research.