Retired Lab Chimps Pressed Back Into Service

A San Antonio lab says primate research is necessary for curing diseases like AIDS and hepatitis. But what progress has really been made.

However, the committee recognized the possibility of a wild card: "A new, emerging or re-emerging disease or disorder...may require the future use of the chimpanzee."

These findings were reflected in Southwest's 2011 annual report, which included thoughts by Thomas Folks, the facility's associate director for research resources.

"The chimpanzee is still available for tests where it is the only animal we could use," he stated. "But the bigger question now is whether attempts will be made to limit research with other species."

Ken was one of 14 lab chimps called out of retirement and sent to the Southwest National Primate Research Center.
photo courtesy of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Ken was one of 14 lab chimps called out of retirement and sent to the Southwest National Primate Research Center.
Dr. John Pippin of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine believes the future of AIDS research is in human subjects.
Mark Graham
Dr. John Pippin of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine believes the future of AIDS research is in human subjects.

As Folks ominously points out, the looming specter of limitations on research using primates other than chimps cannot be ignored.

See, it turns out that there is remarkably little that primates should not be subjected to, according to annual progress reports that Southwest has submitted to the National Institutes of Health. In addition to potentially lifesaving work done in the areas of AIDS, ebola, epilepsy, diabetes, vascular disease, osteoporosis and dementia, there are other federally funded studies that potentially could be at risk. Like the one using baboon DNA provided by Southwest that attempted to unlock the riddle of why some baboons can taste aspartame and others can't. Or the one where researchers fed a simulated fast-food diet (hamburgers, fries, shakes) to baboons and didn't let them move around, so doctors could better treat people who exclusively eat hamburgers and fries and don't move around. Or the one measuring the effects of stress on a baboon's menstrual cycle.

There's also the vital research wherein scientists plied baboons with cocaine and gave them MRIs in order to better see what cokeheads' brains look like during withdrawal. Or the federally funded study in which rhesus monkeys were bled 23 times in order to test a drug for a private pharmaceutical company, with the proprietary results not being publicly disclosed.

And then there's the one where scientists compared the brain development of euthanized baboon fetuses whose mothers ate as much food as they wanted to the brains of those whose mothers were fed 30 percent less. The brains of the fetuses who were deprived of nutrients in utero didn't develop as well as the brains of those who weren't.

The study confirmed what the researchers had suspected all along: In-utero malnutrition is not a good thing.
_____________________

Most primates used in research spend their entire lives in the lab, but there are those lucky enough to make it into a sanctuary.

An hour north of Southwest, more than 500 baboons, macaques and vervets are enjoying life at the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary. In their former lives, they toiled as lab monkeys, as sideshow attractions or as someone's pet. Sanctuary director Tim Ajax doesn't always know the lab monkeys' histories, but even when he does, he can't discuss them. Most labs require confidentiality agreements before they release their chimps to sanctuaries.

The labs "have really become very, very conscious about what information is going out there and how they appear," Ajax says. At the same time, the monkeys he gets from labs are almost always there because someone at the lab has gone to bat for them — a process that sometimes takes years.

"The sad truth is that most animals don't end up in sanctuaries," Ajax says. "Those...primates are shuffled around from facility to facility; they're kind of bought and sold between facilities or even leased out, and almost all of them die within those facilities."

Born Free recently received more than 113 monkeys from a defunct sanctuary called Wild Animal Orphanage. Some, like a stumptail macaque named Dex, are former lab monkeys whose histories are sketchy at best. Dex has only a thumb and index finger on his right hand. Whether he lost them in a fight or chewed them off himself is anyone's guess, just like whether he was used in research to find a cure for a terminal illness or to see what would happen if he stuffed his face with junk food.

But the good news is that while all of the monkeys are freaked out when they come to the sanctuary, the former lab monkeys are generally quicker to adapt.

"The research monkeys actually do better than the ex-pets in general, because they were at least left in their natal group when they were young and during their very formative years...so at least they have some social skills," Ajax says.

Still, the tension-relieving mechanisms some monkeys may have picked up in labs — self-biting, spinning in circles — seldom disappear completely.

But the bottom line, Ajax says, is that former lab monkeys can have — and do have — good lives at his sanctuary. That's why he'd like to see a built-in retirement package for all federally financed primates — a system in which all grants would include funds to ensure that primates could have as comfortable a post-research life as possible.

For chimps, the first choice for retirement would probably be Chimp Haven in Louisiana, the only federally funded primate sanctuary. It was founded by Linda Brent, a behavioral primatologist who previously worked at Southwest, where she directed the chimps' environmental enhancement program.

Some groups, like the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, would like to see Ken and the other Alamogordo chimps spend their remaining years at Chimp Haven. The mean age of death of the 12 New Mexico chimps who died between June 2010 and July 2011 was 30 (Ken's age now); the oldest was 51.

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15 comments
judyslove
judyslove

This is truly a tragedy. Testing on primates should be banned and made illegal everywhere. These primates should be released to caring animal sanctuarys that can provide a much needed change of lifestyle for these beautiful and intelligent animals, they have suffered for far too long.

Schitt.Rumpney
Schitt.Rumpney

Now thats a damn shame. If a po-ass monkey got to go back to work after retirement....what thuh...?

celinejoste
celinejoste

Hey people!  Don't be upset by this story.  THE HOUSTON PRESS is known for FAUX NEWS regarding animal abuse.  They did a story a couple of years ago about someone who was slashing cats then letting them out near where they were abducted, so the owners would find them dead.  It was a horrible story.  We called the numbers listed in the what turned out to be fictitious  story and spoke to someone who was supposedly the animal investigator in charge.  She said "wow, we got a lot of response to that story.  I'll call you back."   Of course she never did.  We had informed her that a group of volunteers in the area were willing to go house to house asking if anyone had seen anything suspicious in the way of catnapping going on.  After more investigating the details - turns out the story was BOGUS, just like this one.

stkittchick
stkittchick

That photo ... that gut-wrenching, heartbreaking photo.  An innocent, condemned.  Life in prison, sanctioned torture, all for nothing. Absolutely nothing.  Future generations will look back appalled by what we are doing to these animals.  Take a stand!  Speak out!  Take one minute out of your day to let others know what's going on.

jaspercat
jaspercat

Heaven help you if you catch a case of the hepatits, the primary symptom of which is terrible copy-editing.

 

How many decades will pass before we stop saying that torturing chimpanzees will cure AIDS in humans? This broken record-style approach to prevention, treatment, and a cure has gotten us nowhere, and people and animals have suffered because of it.

ramsey85
ramsey85

Chimpanzees, like all primates, are sensitive, intelligent beings. Beyond the torture and cruelty of being experimented on, they are confined to barren steel cages with no space to move naturally and no environmental enrichment. The testing that's really needed is on the lab workers who can do this to another living being: Where is their empathy?     

thedanimal
thedanimal

"Your money is good — but your questions aren't." - well said

jcmhoutx
jcmhoutx

Even if experiments on animals gave us useful information about human health -- which it doesn't* -- it's simply and unjustifiably cruel to cage thinking, feeling beings and torment them just because we can. After reading on PETA.org about the sickening ways in which primates are tortured and abused at SNPRC, Covance, Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories and other facilities, I will never support any business or charity that funds experiments on animals.  It just wastes money, endangers human health, and inflicts physical and psychological agony on its terrified victims.

 

*Even small physical/genetic differences between species make it impossible to successfully apply results from other animals to humans. For example, no chimpanzee has ever developed AIDS from normal exposure to HIV, despite SNPRC's eagerness to use them for AIDS research. How many "miracle cures" in animals have you heard about that never materialized for humans? And how many drugs that passed animal testing later proved to harm or even kill patients? You can thank experiments on animals for those.

jacknsue
jacknsue

Poor babies, lived in pain all of their life so resource doctors can meet at cocktails and pat each other on the back and brag about what greatness they have accompliced!!

 

 

terryx666
terryx666

@Hungryghoast I watched God Bless America last night and thought of you. It may not have been bleak enough for you, though.

Hungryghoast
Hungryghoast

@terryx666 remember wanting to see that though the plot seemed a little silly.....

terryx666
terryx666

@Hungryghoast I'd say more spotty than silly. In the same vein as Heathers, but with a different twist. On Netflix streaming.

 
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