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Friends of 110 Chimpanzees|Seek Safe Haven for Them

WASHINGTON (CN) - Friends of chimpanzees claim in court that the National Institutes of Health, bowing to political pressure, plans to send 110 chimpanzees being retired from medical research to an unqualified research company in Texas.

The plaintiffs say the animals belong in Chimp Haven, the only approved federal sanctuary, in northwest Louisiana.

Plaintiffs James Reaux, Joni Orazio, and Gavin Polone sued The National Institutes of Health, NIH Director Francis Collins, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in Federal Court.

The plaintiffs claim that Chimp Haven, in Keithville, La., is the only facility that can adequately care for the retired chimps.

"Plaintiffs bring suit to enjoin the transfer of 110 government-owned chimpanzees that, no longer needed for governmental research, qualify as 'surplus' chimpanzees protected by the federal CHIMP Act, and are therefore entitled to be placed in the sole approved federal sanctuary - Chimp Haven," the complaint states.

"In contravention of federal law, defendants bowed to political pressure and chose to place the chimpanzees in an ineligible facility located in a jurisdiction desirous of the millions of dollars in federal funds accompanying the placement facility - Texas Biomed. That defendants' unlawful transfer decision was preordained and unconcerned with the chimpanzees' welfare is underscored by defendants' actions in stymieing and short-circuiting a working group process implemented by NIH to provide advice and recommendations concerning the placement of inactive populations of NIH-owned chimpanzees."

In 2000, Congress passed the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection Act (the CHIMP Act), which required the government to create a lifetime sanctuary for chimpanzees permanently retired from research who were not euthanized.

Chimp Haven, in northwest Louisiana, is the only sanctuary approved by the federal government for the care of chimpanzees retired from research. The nonprofit organization also cares for chimps who have been retired from the entertainment industry, or are no longer wanted as pets.

Plaintiff Reaux, a mental health professional, says he worked with chimpanzees used for research at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette for 15 years, and has grown attached to the chimps.

He says the research center at the university plans to retire 110 chimpanzees, which the government decided to transfer to an unqualified facility in Texas.

He claims that Texas Biomed, a nonprofit independent biomedical research facility in San Antonio, will not be able to provide the chimps with the environment, care and activities they need to maintain their physical, emotional and mental health.

"On information and belief, NIH's decision to place the chimpanzees with Texas Biomed was based on political lobbying intent on bringing to Texas the millions of dollars in federal funds accompanying the facility that would house the surplus chimpanzees, rather than on the welfare of the chimpanzees," the complaint states.

The plaintiffs say they will no longer be able to see the chimps if they are transferred to Texas.

Orazio, a certified psychiatrist who protests the use of chimpanzees on medical experiments, says that Chimp Haven is "the most responsible, fiscally sound, and ethical choice for the well being and cost of their care."

Polone, a film producer and journalist, and Orazio have both donated money to Chimp Haven, and plan to visit the chimps if they are transferred there, they say.

The plaintiffs want to stop the transfer to Texas Biomed.

They are represented by Adam Augustine Carter with the Employment Law Group.

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