Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
By Rene Romo
Journal Southern Bureau
LAS CRUCES — The nearly 200 chimps housed at a federal facility in Alamogordo have won a temporary reprieve from being transferred to another site, where they were to become test subjects, according to the Governor’s Office.
In a phone call received late Thursday afternoon, an official with the National Institutes of Health informed Gov. Bill Richardson that the chimps will not be transferred until the National Academy of Sciences completes a review of policies related to the use of chimpanzees in biomedical research, according to a governor’s spokeswoman.
The review is expected to postpone the chimp transfer for about two years, said Richardson spokesman Alarie Ray-Garcia.
“Until the study is completed, there will be no transfer of the chimps,” Ray-Garcia said.
With a federal contract to manage the chimps due to expire next year, the NIH wants to trans- fer the 186 chimps to a facility in San Antonio, Texas, where they would be used for testing and research aimed at finding a vaccine for hepatitis C.
Animal welfare activists have protested the transfer, arguing that the chimps, many of them having spent decades in captivity, have already endured enough for biomedical research.
The chimps have lived free from testing at the Alamogordo Primate Facility located on Holloman Air Force Base since 2001.
Opponents have argued that chimps do not make good research models for the disease, and that transporting the apes to Texas could harm them.
The transfer has been opposed by, among others, Animal Protection of New Mexico and a Washington, D.C.-based group called Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
World-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall has been joined by Hollywood celebrities such as actor Gene Hackman in protesting the move, which has been covered in the New York Times.
Richardson, who also has expressed concern about the loss of 35 jobs in Alamogordo, wants the NIH to permanently retire the chimps and convert the primate facility into a sanctuary.
The official who called Richardson on Thursday was identified as Sally Rockey, the NIH deputy director for extramural research.
Richardson called for the National Academy of Sciences review in August when he traveled to Bethesda, Md., to discuss his concerns about the chimp transfer with NIH officials. Rockey was one of the officials with whom Richardson met, Ray-Garcia said.
A spokesman for the NIH could not be reached Thursday to confirm the development.
“This is great news for the chimpanzees and the people of Alamogordo,” said Richardson, who leaves office today, in a statement. “I have worked hard to stop the transfer of the chimpanzees, and I am pleased that one of the last phone calls I received as governor was the NIH letting me know that they have agreed to this study.”