Judge rules that NIH’s refusal to move chimps from a New Mexico laboratory to Chimp Haven sanctuary violates federal law

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on January 11, 2023 with 12 Comments

There is renewed hope for thirty chimpanzees languishing in a New Mexico laboratory as part of our long-standing fight to give chimpanzees who were subjected to experiments a chance at sanctuary life. Last month, we won a significant ruling in a lawsuit that we filed in 2021 with Animal Protection New Mexico and three individual plaintiffs, charging that the National Institutes of Health cannot lawfully refuse to retire federally owned chimpanzees formerly used in research to Chimp Haven, the federal sanctuary. According to the judge, NIH’s decision to deny sanctuary retirement to dozens of chimpanzees at Alamogordo Primate Facility (APF) in New Mexico violated the federal Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection (CHIMP) Act.

These remarkable animals—who can live well into their 60s—have been through a lifetime of trauma and pain. They deserve to live out their final years at Chimp Haven, a lush sanctuary for federally-owned chimps in Louisiana, where they can enjoy the comfort and peace they have long been denied.

Our hard-fought battle to end the suffering of chimpanzees in labs started decades ago, but our commitment to the cause has never wavered.

In 2000, we worked alongside a coalition of animal protections organizations to secure passage of the CHIMP Act, creating and funding a federal sanctuary system for chimpanzees. For years after passage of that landmark bill, we worked to end harmful experiments on chimpanzees—and we were jubilant in 2015 when our petition to grant captive chimpanzees the same protections that wild chimpanzees received under the Endangered Species Act was successful.

This success made it highly unlikely that chimps could ever again be used in harmful experiments in the United States. Ours was the only country in the world that still used chimps in experiments, so this essentially ended the practice worldwide. Soon after, the NIH announced that it was ending all experiments on chimpanzees and moving all chimpanzees owned or supported by the government to Chimp Haven. The NIH also stopped funding experiments on privately owned chimpanzees in laboratories.

But after the announcement, a veterinarian employed by Charles River Laboratories— which receives a lucrative, taxpayer-funded, government contract to keep the chimpanzees at APF — claimed that many of the chimps were too fragile to move and should instead spend the rest of their lives at the very laboratory where they were subjected to invasive experiments.

As a result, in 2019 NIH made an incredibly cruel announcement: after a lifetime of biomedical research experiments, none of the 44 chimpanzees languishing at APF would move to Chimp Haven, denying them the life they deserved and had been promised four years earlier. The NIH cited an internal review that agreed with Charles River’s flawed and self-interested assessment. Importantly, the members of the review panel never saw the chimpanzees, or the living conditions at APF, in person.

Since Chimp Haven’s founding, hundreds of chimpanzees of all ages and health conditions have moved there without a single death occurring during transport. Elderly chimpanzees have thrived at the sanctuary, including a chimpanzee named Grandma who was deemed to be fragile when retired to Chimp Haven in 2005, yet lived happily there for another 10 years, reaching the age of 62. Or Ladybird, who moved to Chimp Haven when she was 55 and also lived to be 62.

NIH’s decision was both inhumane and unjustifiable—and more than 150,000 of you agreed, contacting NIH at our urging to demand that the agency reverse its decision. When the NIH refused, we filed our lawsuit in 2021.

The judge’s ruling is a vindication, but it comes too late for some chimps. In the years since NIH’s announcement, 14 chimpanzees have died or been euthanized waiting for their chance to leave the New Mexico lab. It is heartbreaking to know that the NIH’s refusal to give these chimpanzees the life they so deserved in 2019 likely cost them the chance to spend their final months or years at Chimp Haven. However, we are hopeful that the chimpanzees remaining at APF will experience the freedom and joy of sanctuary life.

Animal Research and Testing, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Sharon Meyers says:

    These creatures deserve to have a healthy loving way of living. They have feelings just like we do. It’s appalling what these poor creatures have had to live through. Please release them to a sanctuary so they have freedom from pain and suffering for the remainder of their lives.

  2. Patricia César says:

    C’est lamentable d’apprendre cela.
    Pauvres créatures victimes de la barbarie humaine.

  3. David Bernazani says:

    I left some scathing comments on the NIH’s Facebook page about this travesty of Justice. Maybe if enough people speak up, they’ll change their cruel ways and finally — finally!— do the right thing.

  4. Karin Erker says:

    Was für ein trauriges Bild .. . Ich bin entsetzt und todtraurig … was brutale herzlose Menschen armen Tieren antun … jedes Tier hat ein Recht artgerecht zu leben und Menschen haben nicht das Recht Tiere zu quälen … Stop es gibt Alternativen und viele Tests sind nicht nötig und können alternativ untersucht werden .. ein Herz und Mitleid mit einem hilflos ausgelieferten Tierchen … das muss endlich aufhören Stop … wir kämpfen weiter gegen diese herzlosen Menschen …

  5. Alan Alejandro Maldonado Ortiz says:

    Tenemos que respetar la vida de los animalitos no podemos ni queremos mas abusos violencia y crueldad

  6. Jan Ward says:

    When will the chimps actually be moved?
    Has a date been set?

  7. Sonia says:

    The NIH should be banned from doing acts of cruelty for the sake of money. These animals deserve the gratitud we all must have for them after being jailed and utilized, experimented on, for such a long time.
    What kind of humans are we? The ones that have the power to stop cruelty and unfairness should act and not think of money.
    It is their conscious so polluted and dark?
    Let them be free and enjoy the few years they might have left in the safety of a refuge where they are cared for and loved as they should. Most of all RESPECTED FOR THEIR SACRIFICE!

  8. Manuel Rodrigues says:

    É inadmissível não autorizar que estes ANIMAIS não possam estar num SANTUÁRIO ANIMAL em LIBERDADE,sem estarem sujeitos a TESTES no fim das suas VIDAS.

    Tenham RESPEITO e CONSIDERAÇÃO pelos ANIMAIS, pelo Bem Estar Animal.


  9. Melissa Holland says:

    God is watching you, NIH, as you deliberately and repeatedly take the life away day after day from these precious creatures of God, yet you allow them to live another day only to suffer and lose more hope that one day they will experience what life here on Earth is really all about, and that is freedom. The tears these chimps cry we may not see, but inside them, their sadness and pain continues. Do you not have a soul at NIH that these atrocious acts of intentional abuse are not your decision to destroy these beautiful chimps for any reason? If you are not held accountable now, God help you, because I believe you will be held accountable later. Bless you, sweet creatures of the Lord. I pray you live to see that there are good people in this world that love you and are fighting disparately for your freedom.

  10. Suzan Woychuk says:

    The life of animals, especially those that have benefited society by being subjects for experimentation, should not be kept at that facility so someone can keep their job. When there is an opportunity for them to go to a sanctuary that should be the primary objective! It is shameful that the NIH would want to keep these animals at their facility, instead of allowing them to live out the rest of their lives, where they could be free in a habitat resembling where they came from.

  11. Carmen Blakely says:

    NIH has used taxpayer dollars to grant funds to “scientists” doing useless experiments that have tortured animals long enough in their bid to keep the money pipeline running for their salaries. None of these experiments have ever benefitted humans, however, every year they are paid to use fresh batches of healthy, playful animals to cruelly torture, to continue to do the EXACT SAME useless tests! This is egregious, outrageous and MUST END NOW! The horrifying psychotic abuse animals are put through is cruel, torturous, disgusting. They use rabbits, pigs, cats, dogs, mice, monkeys in unimaginable extremely abusive “research.” Wasting OUR tax dollars, while Congress is cutting programs that REALLY help people like Social Security and Medicare. Where is the sanity, the government oversight, the inspections of the abusive laboratories??

  12. Carolyn Warner says:

    Thank goodness and let’s hope these innocent and intelligent animals will be heading to sanctuary soon!!

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