NIH has no plans to relocate chimpanzees at Holloman Air Force Base

Federal agency has no plans to relocate chimpanzees at Holloman Air Force Base

Some former lab chimpanzees may not be leaving New Mexico after all.

ALAMOGORDO, N.M. — Some former lab chimpanzees may not be leaving New Mexico after all. It was nearly 10 years ago when the National Institutes of Health stopped laboratory testing on chimpanzees.

While many former lab chimps are living out their final days in a special sanctuary, at least two dozen are still stuck in cages in southern New Mexico.

Animal advocates sued the NIH to relocate the chimps a few years ago, and a federal judge agreed they belong in a sanctuary. However, the federal agency confirmed Thursday that there are no plans to move those chimps. Advocates are now worried they could die in the same place they were tested on for years.

“It’s a tragedy when you think about it, and somewhat cruel,” said Gene Grant, chief program and policy officer with Animal Protection New Mexico. “They are so deserving of freedom and sanctuary. They have paid their debt to society and to our country, when you really think about it.”

Grant says the 26 remaining chimps at the Alamogordo Primate Facility suffered years of rigorous testing.

“It resulted in a lot of injury and, unfortunately, death, as well,” Grant said. “I mean, there was really no rules of the road about what kind of research could be done on chimps.”

Congress passed the CHIMP Act in 2000, requiring all former lab chimps to be transferred to a special sanctuary in Louisiana. But when testing stopped in 2015, the New Mexico chimps remained in their cages.

“Because in NIH’s view, they suffered from chronic health conditions and shouldn’t be transferred to sanctuary,” said Margie Robinson, staff attorney with the Humane Society of the United States.

The Humane Society of the United States sued the NIH in 2021. They argued the agency doesn’t get to decide if the chimps are healthy enough to relocate. A federal judge agreed.

“The law is clear, these chimps must be moved to sanctuary,” Grant said.

Yet, the chimps are still in their cages 16 months later.

An NIH spokesperson says the court did not direct the agency to relocate the chimps. They added that the CHIMP Act includes exceptions for animals that are moribund or near death. According to the agency’s evaluation, all of the remaining chimps are near death.

“That is a determination that we strongly dispute, we do not agree with it,” Robinson said. “We just don’t think under any sense of the word moribund, a chimp who’s alive three years later meets that standard.”

Advocates also noted it costs taxpayers twice as much per day to keep the chimps in Alamogordo instead of a sanctuary.

“We estimate that it is a cost savings, if they were moved to Chimp Haven, of about $800,000 per year,” Robinson said.

Even with a court ruling on their side, advocates are worried time is running out to give these chimps a few good years.

“It could be reasonably argued that NIH is just waiting for these chimps to die off before they would ever put a dime into having them live out their years in some kind of comfort,” Grant said. “That’s very unfair to the chimps, it’s unfair to the taxpayer. It’s unfair to how we do things in our country. We need some compassion here.”

Grant says it’s up to the congressional delegation at this point.

U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján says he is disappointed the NIH continues to ignore the court’s ruling and he encourages the agency to do everything it can to safely move the chimps.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich added that the NIH’s refusal to transfer the chimpanzees stands in direct violation of federal law and court orders. He’s urging them to reconsider.

Grant told KOB 4 that one study suggested some of the chimps still at the facility could live until 2035 – 11 years from now.

The NIH shared the following statement:

“In its decision, the Court declined to direct NIH to transfer the chimpanzees at Alamogordo to Chimp Haven.

The CHIMP Act mandates the transfer of federally supported chimpanzees to Chimp Haven, unless a chimpanzee is moribund. NIH previously categorized each remaining chimpanzee at Alamogordo as moribund, per the agency’s understanding of that term. NIH plans to conduct an annual evaluation of the chimpanzees at Alamogordo to determine if they are moribund, or if they are no longer moribund and can be safely transported to Chimp Haven pending availability of space there.

NIH remains committed to complying with the relevant animal welfare laws and policies, and ensuring the safety and care of NIH-owned and -supported chimpanzees. NIH went through a process to determine the health of the remaining chimps.”

Full statement from Sen. Martin Heinrich:

“Throughout my time in Congress, I have been advocating for a humane and permanent solution for these chimpanzees, so they can live out the rest of their lives in a non-laboratory sanctuary environment. We have a moral responsibility to prevent senseless animal cruelty. That includes providing the chimpanzees who remain at Holloman and primates housed in similar facilities across the country with a humane living environment, the best possible care, and, ultimately, a transfer to Chimp Haven. NIH’s refusal to transfer chimpanzees at Holloman stands in direct violation of federal law and court orders, and I am urging them to reconsider.”

Full statement from Sen. Ben Ray Luján:

“These chimps deserve to live in an environment in which they can live their best lives possible, and that’s in a sanctuary dedicated to their needs. I am disappointed the NIH continues to ignore the court’s ruling and I encourage the NIH to do everything it can to safely move the chimps.”