Alamogordo chimps still living at biomedical research facility

New Mexico News

ALAMOGORDO, N.M. (KRQE) – Chimpanzees that have lived in captivity at the Alamogordo Primate Facility, where they were experimented on for decades, may die there as the fight continues to get them to a sanctuary. Advocates and lawmakers said the chimpanzees there are not being treated well. Even though there is enough space for them at a sanctuary in Louisiana, they said the chimps are being denied that opportunity.

Montessa, 47, is one of 39 chimpanzees remaining at the Alamogordo Primate Facility. “When you think about all she has lived through, it is really incredible,” Laura Bonar with Animal Protection of New Mexico said.

It is believed that Montessa was born in the wild, kidnapped, and brought to the facility. She had five pregnancies and four babies who were taken away. She went through years of liver punch biopsies and other testing. “We have been working every day to get these survivors a better quality of life,” Bonar said.

Back in 2015, the National Institutes of Health retired chimpanzees from research. Bonar said 94 chimps from New Mexico reached the Chimp Haven Sanctuary in Louisiana. However, the NIH decided last year that Montessa and others in Alamogordo could not leave because they are too frail to be moved. “The transition from one living condition to another, there may be some short term stress,” Bonar said. “However, there would be tremendous benefit for the chimpanzees long-term.”

Bonar is fighting for the NIH to revisit that decision. Bonar said care at the Alamogordo facility is inadequate, guidelines for euthanasia are too low, oversight is insufficient and records are conflicting. “One report said the veterinarians elected to humanely euthanize a chimpanzee,” Bonar said. “The next report about the very same incident said the chimpanzee was found dead.”

Sen. Tom Udall is also seeking information about care at the Alamogordo facility. He said the NIH, facility, and contractor have all stonewalled him.

Sen. Udall said it costs taxpayers three times more to keep chimps in Alamogordo than it would the Louisiana sanctuary. “I think the contractor who has been hired by the NIH has a conflict of interest because they have a contract,” Sen. Udall (D-New Mexico) said. “They keep making money if they keep the chimps there.”

Bonar said some chimps in captivity have lived into their 60s. She is hopeful that Montessa won’t die in the facility she’s been at since she was a baby. “She deserves the chance whether she has months to live or many years to live to experience that higher quality of life that’s been denied to her for decades,” Bonar said.

KRQE News 13 reached out to the contractor, Charles River, for comment who then referred us to the facility. KRQE News 13 did not hear back from the facility or NIH.

Sen. Udall said he is working to get experts from the Louisiana sanctuary to travel to New Mexico to see how the chimps are being housed, view all the medical records, and then determine whether they can travel to the sanctuary.

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