ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Animal rights advocates claimed a huge victory Thursday in fighting to stop research on chimpanzees.
The National Institutes of Health decided to bar new funding for chimp research, an action prompted by protests last year in New Mexico when the NIH wanted to move nearly 200 chimps to a research facility in Texas to save money.
Thousands of New Mexicans flooded lawmakers in Washington with e-mails, letters, petitions and phone calls to stop the transfer of the chimps from a former research center near Alamogordo.
Sens. Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa decided there was need for an independent review of using chimpanzees in research.
On Thursday the Institute of Medicine released its findings and concluded "experiments with humans' closest relative should be a last resort."
As a result, NIH is now barring any new funding for chimp research and will review all ongoing projects.
The chimps at the Alamogordo Primate Facility at Holloman Air Force Base have a long history of being used for science. In the early days of space flight, they went into space first, and after that it was biomedical research.
In 2001 the facility was closed down for cruelty but reopened under a different contract. Under that federal contract, the chimps could not be subjected to any invasive research at the facility.
Flo, 54, is one of 170 chimps still at Alamogordo, and she's become the poster chimp. Her medical history there dates back to 1972 and includes escape attempts during one of which she was shot.
Most entries in her medical record are her being anesthetized for blood draws, but she also had four babies that were taken from her immediately to be used in further research.
There are about 1,000 chimps being used in research in the United States, and Laura Bonar with Animal Protection of New Mexico says this is only a step in stopping chimp research.
"The fight is not over until these chimpanzees are permanently retired," she said. "They are not safe."
The next step is a working group to review 37 ongoing research projects using chimps to determine if they should be phased out.
Chimps are very expensive to care for and transport. There is a bill now being considered in Congress that says the government could save $30 million by stopping chimp research.
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