Last of New Iberia research chimps retired to sanctuary

The chimps are now officially retired.

The National Institutes of Health research chimpanzees housed at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s New Iberia Research Center have completed their move to Chimp Haven in Keithville, the president of the north Louisiana sanctuary said Wednesday.

The 110 biomedical research chimps double the population of the north Louisiana chimpanzee sanctuary and will spend the rest of their days among them in a newly renovated natural environment built to accommodate the population boom.

“It’s a wonderful feeling to know these chimps have a home here at Chimp Haven,” Chimp Haven President Cathy Willis Spraetz said. “It’s a wonderful feeling to know that they can live their lives out as chimpanzees.”

Chimp Haven has gradually funneled chimps from the research center to the 200-acre sanctuary over the past 15 months following a commitment by the National Institutes of Health in September 2012 to retire the chimpanzees living at the research lab.

The last of the chimpanzees were moved last week.

New Iberia Research Center remains in operation with other primates as research subjects. Also, NIRC still owns 230 chimpanzees that remain at the research center.

The National Institutes of Health has set a long-term goal of moving all research chimps out of labs and into retirement sanctuaries.

“Americans have benefitted greatly from the chimpanzees’ service to biomedical research, but new scientific methods and technologies have rendered their use in research largely unnecessary,” NIH director Francis Collins said in a 2013 statement. “Their likeness to humans has made them uniquely valuable for certain types of research, but also demands greater justification for their use. After extensive consideration with the expert guidance of many, I am confident that greatly reducing their use in biomedical research is scientifically sound and the right thing to do.”

Much of the money needed to house and care for the former research chimpanzees was raised by the sanctuary in its Road to Chimp Haven campaign, which secured $5 million in donations.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled for the chimpanzees who will now get to live out the remainder of their lives climbing trees, relaxing in the sun and living in larger social groups,” Humane Society of the United States President and CEO Wayne Pacelle said in a blog post Wednesday.

The group donated $500,000 to the effort.

“The HSUS extends our congratulations to Chimp Haven for this amazing milestone and looks forward to more great news like this in the future as the National Institutes of Health continues its plan to retire more than 300 federally owned chimpanzees,” Pacelle said.

Editor’s note: This story was modified on July 7, 2014, to indicate that only National Institutes of Health chimpanzees were removed from the New Iberia Research Center, which still owns 230 chimpanzees. The Advocate regrets the error.