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The Plight of the Air Force Chimpanzees

In August 1998, the United States Air Force awarded 111 chimpanzees to The Coulston Foundation (TCF), a New Mexico primate research laboratory with a long and sordid history of negligence, animal deaths and violations of federal law. The award was blatantly illegal and represented a gross abrogation of the Air Force's responsibility for these chimpanzees, who are veterans of the U.S. space program and their progeny. The Air Force giveaway to TCF shocked a nation that had been closely following the fate of these celebrated space veterans.

Thousands of concerned individuals - including Dr. Jane Goodall and former Gemini and Apollo mission member Buzz Aldrin, along with 11 of his astronaut colleagues, had urged the Air Force to retire the chimpanzees to a sanctuary rather than allow them to continue to be used in experiments. Instead, the Air Force dumped 111 of the chimpanzees to TCF. Just 30 chimpanzees were earmarked for retirement to Primarily Primates, Inc., a Texas-based sanctuary.

The Air Force chimpanzee giveaway came after a Congressionally mandated bid process in which Congress ordered the Air Force to insure that the chimpanzees were provided with adequate care for life. The Coulston Foundation, with its shaky financial picture and history of Animal Welfare Act violations, could not meet the requirements to provide adequate lifetime care to these chimps. The Air Force blatantly and illegally ignored these facts and awarded the chimps to The Coulston Foundation anyway.

One organization -- The Center for Captive Chimpanzee Care, headed by renowned chimp experts Drs. Jane Goodall and Roger Fouts -- that bid for the chimpanzees in order to retire them is now suing the Air Force because of the award to Coulston. IDA is proud to be supporting this lawsuit and has provided detailed information on TCF, including two sworn affidavits in the case.

On August 24, 1999, the case received a huge boost when the U.S. Department of Agriculture entered into an agreement with The Coulston Foundation to settle charges for multiple and repeated Animal Welfare Act violations. Among other things, the agreement forces the laboratory to divest itself of 300 chimpanzees. It makes clear that the USDA and Coulston both recognize what the Air Force should have known from the start- that TCF does not have the financial resources or personnel necessary to care for 650 chimpanzees.

At the time of the Air Force chimpanzee giveaway, Coulston already "owned" over 550 chimpanzees -- far more than the foundation had the resources to care for. The Air Force, however, ignored Coulston’s financial and animal care shortcomings and added 111 more chimpanzees to the lab’s population. The unprecedented USDA settlement ordering The Coulston Foundation to divest of 350 chimpanzees makes clear the blatantly irresponsible and illegal nature of the Air Force’s decision to hand over more chimpanzees to Coulston.

We are confident that the USDA's sweeping action against TCF will greatly increase the chance that the U.S. Court of Federal Claims will order the Air Force chimps freed from Coulston's evil grasp. It is our sincerest wish that all of the remaining space chimpanzees will one day be retired to sanctuaries where they can live the rest of their lives in peace.

The plight of the Air Force chimpanzees has brought to light another tragedy that exists for these magnificent animals today. Across the nation, hundreds of chimpanzees who, like the Air Force chimpanzees, are no longer needed for research and are simply being warehoused in laboratories under conditions that do not begin to approach those of their natural habitat. Although the federal government, through the National Institutes of Health, has paid upwards of $50 million to breed many of these chimpanzees and millions more to infect them with our deadliest diseases, it has not stepped forward to assume responsibility for the chimpanzees’ long-term care.

Congressman James Greenwood (R-PA) is developing legislation to create a national sanctuary system for retired research chimpanzees. This worthy effort deserves our support, as it will help hundreds of chimpanzees who could be retired from research if the funds to support them in sanctuaries were simply made available.


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