NEW IBERIA — More than 100 chimpanzees from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s New Iberia Research Center will retire to a sanctuary in north Louisiana under an agreement announced Tuesday by the National Institutes of Health.
The federally-owned chimpanzees are expected to be transferred over the next 12 to 15 months to Chimp Haven, a forested expanse in Keithville that offers the animals a more natural environment than the pens of a research facility.
“They can climb trees and walk through the woods, just as a wild chimpanzee would,” Chimp Haven Director Linda Brent said.
The move will be supported by a $500,000 donation that the Humane Society of the United States announced Tuesday to help pay the $2.3 million needed to build facilities to accommodate the new arrivals.
“These animals have made important contributions to research to improve human health, but new technologies have reduced the need for their continued use in research,” NIH Director Francis Collins said in a statement. “We are grateful to all of the organizations that have pulled together to help us transition these animals into formal retirement.”
The NIH, a federal medical research agency, announced plans in September to relocate 110 of its chimpanzees from the New Iberia Research Center and to stop using the animals for biomedical testing.
At the time, the plan was to send 10 of the animals to Chimp Haven and to send the remaining 100 to the Texas Biomedical Institute in San Antonio with the understanding that the animals would be permanently ineligible for further biomedical research.
Several animal rights groups objected to sending any of the animals to another research facility.
The New Iberia chimpanzees will roughly double the population of the Chimp Haven sanctuary, which now houses 121 chimpanzees, Brent said.
She said the sanctuary can house about half of the New Iberia chimpanzees with existing facilities but will need to quickly move forward with the construction projects to accommodate the other half.
In addition to the $500,000 from the Humane Society of the United States, Chimp Haven has received pledges for $100,000 from the New England Anti-Vivisection Society and $25,000 from the National Anti-Vivisection Society, according to information from the sanctuary.
More funding is needed for the construction project and to support the long-term care of the chimpanzees, Brent said.
Chimp Haven, the Humane Society of the United States and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health have launched a joint fundraising campaign for the project.
The retirement of the New Iberia chimpanzees comes as the NIH considers how to implement recommendations for more stringent standards on biomedical research using chimpanzees, including guidelines that are expected to limit the use of chimpanzees to studies in which other testing alternatives have been exhausted.
ULL’s primate research center has done private and government medical research for more than 20 years.
The facility has about 230 other research chimpanzees at the facility not involved in NIH research, and they will not be transferred to the sanctuary, according to figures from the university.
For more information, visit http://www.chimphaven.org.