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Saving the chimpanzees

Updated on February 28, 2012


Sometimes an article is so hard for me to write that I have to search deep inside myself to make sure that I can go the whole 1000 words plus distance that it takes to get my point across. This has been one of those articles which I have been meaning to write for some time. It suddenly became much easier to do just that about a month ago.

Every time I move to a new town or State, It seems that the long time residents always want to share stories and make you aware of all the wrong doings that are going on in their neck of the woods. I have learned about everything from crooked mayors, bad school systems, and greedy power companies. In all my travels however I have never come across such gut wrenching information like the Alamogordo primate facility! I absolutely had no idea that this type of facility existed, nor had it ever existed. It came as a bit of a surprise and a shock to me when The Alamogordo Primate Facility was bought to my attention.

Ever since learning of its existence, I have found it almost impossible to think of anything else. I find my mind drifting back constantly to the horrific stories I have seen, and heard about this facility. My friends continuously tell me to stop upsetting myself and stressing over things which I cannot change nor have any control over. The more information I gather on these facilities the better my understanding of why the phrase "Ignorance is bliss" came about. What does one do after no longer being ignorant to a situation? I believe that change is possible and that by ignoring issues in life, it does not make them better.

My hope is that in writing this article I can reach and inform a few, and hopefully enough people will be made aware of this situation to make a difference. The great philosopher singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie once said that three people are an organization, and fifty people might be considered a movement. I suppose that deep down inside, my hopes are to get fifty people ruffled up enough to start a movement.


In the 1950s our space program was in its infancy stages. The United States had the brilliant idea to use chimpanzees for the space program testing. The United States Air Force was sent over to Africa in order to capture baby chimpanzees and ship them to Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo New Mexico. I have to add here that if anyone else besides the United States government would have done such a thing, it would have been considered poaching, and highly illegal, but that's another story for another day. The chimpanzees that where bought to the states where used for a while, but when they were no longer useful to the space program they decided to start using them for biomedical testing, and where distributed and owned by a series of labs and institutions.

There are currently five laboratories in the United States which still use or store chimpanzees for invasive research purposes. These labs are: Bioqual, Inc. (Rockville, MD), MD Anderson Cancer Center (Bastrop, TX), New Iberia Research Center (New Iberia, LA), Southwest National Primate Research Center (San Antonio, TX), Yerkes National Primate Research Center (Atlanta, GA). Every country in the world has banned the practice of using chimpanzees for experimental medical purposes except for The United States and Gabon. The United states is always boasting to be ahead of everyone else, yet the fact that we still have these labs around only proves that we are not only behind the times, but are no better educated than a third world country which was mainly run by Pygmy peoples.

I was informed that at one point The Coulston Foundation in Alamogordo New Mexico owned over 600 chimpanzees in a successful effort to become the world’s largest chimpanzee research colony. Currently there are about 400 chimpanzees divided amongst the five remaining laboratories. Alamogordo New Mexico was housing about 200 of these poor animals till just about a month ago. I am so overjoyed to make the statement that as of January; all the chimpanzees at the former Coulston Research Facility on LaVelle Road in Alamogordo have been retired and moved to Florida to live out the rest of their lives in peace in a sanctuary built especially for them.

Fortunately, the scientific community has decreased the use of chimpanzees due to the high costs of keeping chimpanzees in laboratories, serious ethical concerns, and unsuitability of chimpanzees as research models for humans and public pressure. Hopefully the pressure gets a bit heavier with chimpanzees now being on the red list. The numbers of these primates is growing smaller every year, with only 100000 to 200000 left in the wild and about 250 individuals in zoos in the United States.


In 2000, horrific animal deaths and falsified research resulted in formal government sanctions against The Coulston Foundation. The National Institutes of Health seized 288 chimpanzees and housed them all on Holloman Air Force Base. The Alamogordo Primate Facility chimpanzees were facing the fact that they were going to be forced back into research. The way that these animals are housed or should I say stored is an outrage! The only thing I can think of that is worse than storing them is performing medical experiments on them. These chimpanzees are used repeatedly over and over for decades, rather than used and killed as with most small laboratory animals. Some of the individual chimpanzees which I have gathered information about have been used in experiments for well over 40 years!

Take for instance the story of "Wenka" who was born in a laboratory in Florida on May 21, 1954. In the wild, Mothers and their young are always together up until the age of seven or so. Wenka was removed from her mother on the day of birth to be used in a vision experiment which lasted 17 months. She was then sold as a pet to a family in North Carolina. She was returned to the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in 1957 when she became too big for the family to handle. Since then, she has been allowed to give birth six times, and has been used in research into alcohol use, oral contraceptives, aging, and cognitive studies! Chimpanzees in captivity can live more than 60 years. I can't imagine the nightmare that these poor animals have had to endure during their lifetime!

We the taxpayers spend an estimated $20-$25 million each year on experiments involving chimpanzees and on their care. The estimated expense of simply maintaining one chimpanzee in a laboratory is $20–$39 per day. It upsets me to no end that I am funding the abuse of these animals with my tax dollars. It's bad enough that I know the abuse that they are experiencing, but it's even harder for me to deal with the fact that I can't control where my tax dollars go, and withdraw the funding for this abuse! Chimpanzees are social creatures that exhibit a range of emotions including pleasure, depression, anxiety, pain, distress, empathy and grief. Chimpanzees are highly intelligent to the point where they have been taught numerical skills and American Sign Language. Humans and chimpanzees are known to share 98 percent of the same DNA! This means that biologically, chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than they are to gorillas. Due to the overwhelming evidence of their intelligence and ability to experience emotions so similar to humans, their suffering under laboratory conditions cannot be refuted. Most of the retired chimps are even showing signs of anxiety and have been diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

Chimpanzees in the remaining five facilities are still being used as models for infectious disease research, vaccines for Hepatitis A, B and C, AIDS and all sorts of other unethical tests. These remaining laboratory chimpanzees are forced to live alone in cold, metal cages approximately the size of a closet which can cause severe problems such as depression, heightened aggression, frustration and even self-mutilation. In addition to solitary housing, chimpanzees used in research are often subjected to many painful and distressing procedures including numerous liver biopsies, isolation from others for long spans of time, injection of human viruses, and frequent "knockdowns" in which chimpanzees are shot with a dart gun of anesthetic. The majorities of chimpanzees in laboratories are not being used and are simply being warehoused, at taxpayers' expense. Being in the laboratory, even when not being used, can cause the chimpanzee’s anxiety and fear due to seeing other chimpanzees undergo procedures and not knowing what may happen to them next.


Thanks to the "Save the Chimps" organization all that is slowly changing. Save the chimps is the largest chimpanzee sanctuary in the world. Their mission is to provide compassionate care within a socially enriched environment to chimpanzee’s which are rescued from research laboratories, the entertainment and pet trade. In 2002, The Coulston Foundation Labs in New Mexico were on the verge of bankruptcy due to having their funding withdrawn because of violations of the Animal Welfare Act. In desperation Frederick Coulston contacted Dr. Noon and offered to sell the laboratory land and buildings to Save the Chimps, and "donate" all its 266 chimpanzees. Unsure of the future of the primates Save the Chimps stepped in after receiving an unprecedented grant of $3.7 million from the Arcus Foundation to purchase the New Mexico laboratory. Additional funding from the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, Doris Day Animal League, Friends of Washoe, In Defense of Animals, New England Anti-Vivisection Society, and others made this the largest ever single effort on behalf of captive chimpanzees. On September 16, 2002, Save the Chimps took over TCF, overnight becoming the world’s largest chimpanzee rescue sanctuary.

I cannot say enough wonderful things about the Save the Chimps organization! On average it costs about 15,000 a year to care for each individual rescued chimpanzee. The task of taking care of these chimpanzees is a tremendous labor of love, commitment and expense. Save the Chimps is a 501(c)(3) not for profit organization which means that 100% of all donations are utilized by Save the Chimps. If this story has touched you in any way, please don’t hesitate to donate whatever you can to these wonderful people. Through their website you are able to send care packages of some of the most needed items for the chimps. You can also place orders through save the chimps wish list on Amazon.com which will send items directly to the Florida facility. All orders over 25.00 will ship for free. The refuge is also always in need of other items such as blankets, stuffed animals, small plastic toys, basketballs and magazines. One of the best ways to get needed supplies to the organization is through gift Certificates from Home Depot, Sam's Club and Wal-Mart which can also be purchased through their website. There are so many ways that you can help; I hope you find it in your heart to find one that works for you.

I have great faith that by helping the Save the chimps Foundation perhaps in time they will be able to rescue the remaining chimps from lab captivity and torture. Every good deed has a ripple. That ripple has an effect; an effect we will often be unaware of, an effect with the potential to snowball, and ultimately, adjust the lives of one, or of many. One simple good deed has the potential to appear as a miracle. Every good deed makes a difference, and lots of good deeds compounded will have a profound impact. If you don't believe me just ask the 266 chimpanzees who were rescued from their former lab cages and taken to their new island homes in sunny Florida. A custom trailer was made to transport ten chimpanzees at a time and each one had a window seat.

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    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks for writing this article, Madambutterfly. I thought using Chimps in tests and experiments was now banned, but obviously I was mistaken. For me, experimenting on a Chimp is as the same as doing it to a human, after all we share over 99% of our DNA with them. Voted up and sharing.

    • jacqui2011 profile image

      jacqui2011 5 years ago from Leicester, United Kingdom

      This article had me in tears, so I can only imagine how upsetting it must have been for you to research and write it. It is shocking to know that this is still going on today. I am glad that you have raised awareness in writing this hub. I will share it with everyone I know. I am in the UK and I know that there are some animal testing labs here. I sign every petition I know of against animal cruelty, and have registered with the Animal Rights UK. I feel so angry that this still goes on today. Thanks so much for sharing this cruel story and making people aware. Voted up, useful and shared.

    • Maddambutterfly profile image
      Author

      Marie V Stephens 5 years ago from New Mexico

      Thanks everyone for the comments, it brings a smile to my face to know that the word is getting out!

      Two down...only 48 more to go towards my Movement effort :)

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