NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Chimpanzees who have spent their lives in U.S. research labs being prodded, poked and tested may be headed for retirement in a leafy sanctuary where they can climb trees, socialize at will, play with toys and even listen to music.
More than 300 chimpanzees should be retired from government-funded research and sent to live in a sprawling refuge outfitted with play areas under a recommendation approved Tuesday by a top national panel of scientists.
The proposal from a National Institutes of Health committee is the latest step in a gradual shift away from using chimps as test subjects, because of technological advances and because of ethical concerns about their close relation to humans. It would affect all but 50 of more than 350 chimpanzees in labs around the country. The remaining group kept for future federally funded research would have to be housed in spacious conditions laid down in the detail by the committee.
The NIH Council of Councils Working Group proposal, which will go to the agency's director after a 60-day period for public comment, also calls for major cuts in grants to study chimps in laboratories and no return to breeding them for research.
The chimpanzees would be sent to a national sanctuary, Chimp Haven, that opened in 2005 to house former federal research chimps on a 200-acre site in rural northwest Louisiana.
File photo by Robin May
As many as 6,500 primates once lived at UL's New Iberia Research Center.
Under an agreement made late last year, before the proposal, nine chimpanzees arrived Tuesday at Chimp Haven from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's New Iberia Research Center, which no longer has an NIH chimp research contract. Seven more are expected Thursday and another 95 will arrive over the coming months, sanctuary officials said.
After decades of being taken from cages to be poked and prodded, they'll be part of larger social groups with changing access to forest habitats, play yards, courtyards and jungle gyms.
They'll get a daily assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables along with their nutritionally balanced biscuits. They'll have toys to play with, from balls and backpacks to anything else that's safe and might amuse them — one Christmas, they got donated books — and even concerts. Drummers and other musicians have been brought in to play for them, and administrative associate Steve Snodgrass sometimes plays "lyrical" Irish fiddle tunes.
"They're very attentive. They are calm, and it seems to soothe them," he said Wednesday.
The animals that arrived Tuesday — eight females and a male between ages 29 and 52 — made up one group housed together at New Iberia, and those scheduled Thursday made up another such social group, said Chimp Haven spokeswoman Ashley Gordon. They include a 2-year-old female and 3-year-old male born in New Iberia and coming with their mothers.
Once their quarantine period is over and the sanctuary's behaviorist and veterinary staff have had a chance to get to know them, they'll be put in a "howdy" — a fenced-off part of a larger living area — to become acquainted with the group that seems the best match for them. Once they seem to be getting along well across the barrier, it will be removed.
The federal agency said in 2011 that it would phase out most invasive research on chimpanzees because advances in science have made most such studies unnecessary and, as director Francis Collins put it, the great apes' similarity to people "demands special consideration and respect."
The new 86-page recommendation describes how chimpanzees should be kept and what will be needed for any future research. Chimps should be used only if there is no other way to study a threat to human health, and the research should be approved by an independent committee with members from the public, said the Council of Councils.
Animal-rights activists said they were pleased by the recommendations.
"At last, our federal government understands: A chimpanzee should no more live in a laboratory than a human should live in a phone booth," the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said in a statement.
Kathleen Conlee, the Humane Society of the United States' vice president for animal research issues, said she was disappointed by the recommendation to keep a group of about 50 in case further research on chimpanzees is approved.
"But I'm glad they made clear those animals should be kept to much higher standards than they are currently being kept in," she said.
Research chimpanzees should be kept in groups of at least seven, with about 1,000 square feet of outdoor space per chimp — roughly one-sixth of an acre for a group of seven, according to the proposal.
The space must include year-round outdoor access with a variety of natural surfaces such as grass, dirt and mulch, and enough climbing space to let all members of large troupes travel, feed and rest well above the ground, and with material to let them build new nests each day, the report said.
Chimp Haven's enclosures range from a quarter-acre to five acres, some of them forested and all with climbing structures.
A $30 million cap on total spending for construction and care of Chimp Haven's retirees has been looming. That would stop NIH from contributing 75 percent of the $13,000 annual cost to care for each federal chimpanzee.
Conlee said the Humane Society will urge Congress to move money now spent on research contracts to Chimp Haven. The sanctuary gives the animals better care for less money than the labs are paid, she said.
JUNE 19 Former Saint Steve Gleason, who is paralyzed by ALS, released a statement Tuesday in response to the Atlanta radio station's skit making fun of him and the disease, this Picayune post reports. What did he say? He said he'd accepted the apology of the DJs who did it, notes that at least the incident has got people talking about ALS, and asks anyone who is burning to take action about it to do so -- by helping him fight ALS.
JUNE 19 Blogger Ian McGibboney takes a look at the Gleason incident in this post. He makes a good argument about the difference between having free speech and being free from consequences for your speech (which none of us is). He also admits that many of us got upset before we listened to the skit -- but lets us know that the reality is far worse than we can imagine. It was the incredibly bad judgment, even more than the actual speech, that probably got those DJs fired, he opines.
JUNE 19 Washington Post blogger Aaron Blake writes about Sen. Guillory's switch to the GOP in this post. He writes what most political watchers in Louisiana know: Guillory was a Republican before he decided to run for the senate seat in a mostly-D St. Landry district, and has switched back now that he plans to run for Lt. Gov. in a mostly-R state. But how come Blake missed Guillory's appearance on a TLC pageant show? Now that is a video we'd like to see. (Again).
JUNE 19 Here's another Washington Post blog post about a Louisiana politician, and it's just plain scathing. Ezra Klein says Jindal's Politico post was "insulting" to the intelligence of voters, and adds that Jindal is personifying the "stupid" he's railed against, by being an "elite" who convinces GOP activists of "things that aren't true." Me-ow.
JUNE 19 Here's Gov. Jindal's post in Politico, in which he asks the GOP to get over losing to Obama (again) and stop "the bedwetting." (Uh, what?) He gives his Republican buddies what is probably a nerd's idea of a coach's motivational talk, which starts with a list of accomplishments that they can't seem to exploit and ending with an absurd description of liberals that sounds like a character treatment for a Fox "News" movie scripted by Gordon Liddy. Sure, he's preaching to the choir, but even the choir's not this gullible.
JUNE 19 Lamar Parmentel read Gov. Jindal's post on Politico, but thinks it was so dumb it probably was published in the wrong paper. This post by Lamar on the Daily Kingfish opines that possibly Jindal's post was destined for the Onion -- because the governor couldn't possibly be serious here. If you listen closely, you can hear the staff of the Kingfish giggling.
JUNE 19 Blogger Robert Mann posts from Turkey, a country he has visited several times in the past few years. Mann gives an interesting overview of the current political and societal climate of the country, which -- if you're living under a rock and don't know -- is experiencing protests and turmoil these days. Mann promises to post as much as he can during his trip, which should be fascinating reading.
JUNE 19 Blogger CB Forgotston says the legislature is keeping the vicious cycle going with its funding of new buildings for the community college/technical college system. Universities across the state need maintenance and improvement on existing buildings, and the solution is to build new buildings at other schools? By the time the bonds are paid off, those buildings will be falling down, too, CB says.
Frank’s Casing Crew, now doing business as Frank’s International, will make its final appearance on ABiz’s list of the Top 50 Privately Held Companies in Acadiana this year, and once again it will likely be at the top with more than $1 billion in annual revenues. The 75-year-old company specializing in tubular fabrication and installation services to the oil and gas industry plans to offer shares of its stock to the public for the first time.
The defeat, or rather highjacking of House Bill 420 in the final days of this year's Legislative Session, say Reps. Vincent Pierre and Terry Landry, is the result of the propaganda spread by one unidentified local media outlet and an unnamed former state Representative, but nothing to do with the original legislation's lack of checks, balances or details.
He’s a singer. A songwriter. A piano man. A family man. He’s even got his own Wikipedia entry. He’s David Egan. And he knows ancient secrets about the monolithic stones of Stonehenge that he’s not willing to share.