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The History of Chimpanzees In New Mexico

The Coulston Foundation (TCF) was a bio-medical research laboratory located in Alamogordo, New Mexico. TCF purposely infected captive chimpanzees with human diseases and bred them for medical experiments. According to the 12/30/97 issue of the Wall Street Journal, laboratory founder Frederick Coulston moved on to chimpanzees when his experiments on human prisoners were halted in the 1960s. Here is how TCF came to manage the world’s largest captive chimpanzee colony (650 apes).

In the 1950s, the United States Air Force established a chimpanzee colony as part of the country’s space program. The original 65 infant chimpanzees–who were abducted from African forests and whose mothers were likely murdered by their abductors–were used to test the life support systems aboard the Mercury capsules prior to sending manned flights into space. The effects of weightlessness and gravity forces were also tested on the chimpanzees.

By 1970, the manned flights had become successful and the chimpanzees were no longer needed for the space program. The Air Force began leasing them to research institutions. The most famous chimponauts, Ham and Enos, whose missions paved the way for the space flights of John Glenn and Alan Shepard, are long dead. Surviving chimponauts and their offspring–141 animals in all–remained Air Force property. For more than 30 years, they were the victims of biomedical experiments, transferred back and forth among various researchers, including those at TCF.

Because chimpanzees and humans share more than 98% of the same DNA, researchers believed that infecting chimpanzees with human diseases–such as HIV–and then injecting them with experimental drugs, might lead to the discovery of disease cures.

But chimpanzees infected with the HIV virus did not develop full-blown cases of AIDS. Progress in AIDS treatment resulted from experiments on humans, not chimpanzees. Nonetheless, scientists at TCF continued to perform cruel medical experiments on chimpanzees. (In one such experiment, researchers bashed the teeth of a group of chimpanzees with a steel ball so dental students could practice reconstructive surgery on them).

Because they need care throughout their relatively long lives (60 years or more), when no longer useful for bio-medical research, chimpanzees become a financial liability to research laboratories. In 1997, the Air Force invited bids on 141 "surplus" chimpanzees, requiring bidders to demonstrate their financial ability to provide the chimpanzees lifetime care and to agree either to use them for research or to retire them.

In August 1998, the Air Force awarded 111 "surplus" chimpanzees to TCF, despite TCF’s well-known, abysmal animal care record. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had already cited Coulston for flagrant violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and additional charges were pending. For example:

• in 1995, three Coulston chimpanzees literally cooked to death when the temperature in their unmonitored enclosure reached 140 degrees. Four monkeys died of thirst;

• in March 1998, the USDA found Coulston negligent in the deaths of two chimpanzees –Jello and Echo–and the lab was cited for fundamental inadequacies in its animal care program, serious housing deficiencies and unsanitary conditions.

The Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC) inspected TCF at the lab’s request. The lab sought AAALAC accreditation as an important step in attracting research dollars and establishing credibility for its animal welfare program. Based on its inspection, AAALAC refused to accredit TCF.

Despite the large number of chimpanzees and the lab’s lack of accreditation, the Air Force proceeded with plans to award TCF more chimpanzees. Outraged, the Center for Captive Chimpanzee Care (Center)–a Florida sanctuary now called Save the Chimps–sued the Air Force, charging that it had failed to adequately review bids before awarding TCF the chimpanzees. The Center, whose board of directors included eminent animal experts Drs. Jane Goodall and Roger Fouts, contended that Coulston "has the worst animal care record of any primate research facility in the history of the Animal Welfare Act." Since 1993, 46 animals –including 33 chimpanzees –were known to have died "unintended" deaths). In October 1999, the Air Force and the Center agreed that 21 chimpanzee space veterans previously awarded to TCF would permanently be retired to the Center.

Continuing its own investigation, after the Air Force announced the results of its bidding process, the USDA on February 9, 1999:

• cited TCF for AWA violations leading to the negligent deaths of chimpanzees Terrance, Muffin and Holly;

• faulted TCF for engaging in research activities prior to their approval by the lab’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC);

• questioned the large numbers of Coulston animals slated for experimentation; and,

• cited TCF for inadequate veterinary care.

In August 1999, after AWA violations led to the negligent deaths of yet another TCF chimpanzee, Eason, the lab settled USDA charges by agreeing to: comply with the AWA; cease breeding chimpanzees unless funding for their long term care was available; by 2002, reduce the TCF colony by 300; and, submit to unprecedented oversight by animal care and fiscal monitors. At the time of the settlement, the USDA was already investigating Eason’s death, the sixth official USDA investigation of TCF since 1993.

On the heels of TCF’s conviction, In Defense of Animals (IDA), a national animal rights group long critical of the lab, revealed that within a ten month period TCF had lost three federal contracts representing half of its income. TCF tax returns and reports indicated that remaining National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding and personal loans from Frederick Coulston were keeping the lab afloat.

TCF became the subject of an ongoing investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In July and August 2000, the FDA documented more than 270 violations of federal regulations governing laboratory practices. The violations, made public by IDA, included: • lack of standard operating procedures that insure the quality and integrity of study data; • missing or misplaced documents; • record discrepancies, and • unapproved changes in experiment protocols. The FDA’s 31-page observation of TCF’s violations created widespread concern. The integrity of data from two drug studies and the study of a spinal device were being questioned. In other FDA cases that involve violations of good laboratory practices, the agency ruled that affected studies could not be included in drug or product approval applications.

After TCF signed the August 1999 consent decree with the USDA, settling multiple violations of federal animal welfare laws, at least seven more chimpanzee deaths at the lab were reported: Albro (infant, upper respiratory infection), Dean (euthanized after nervous system infection and abscesses on spine were discovered), Babu (found dead with tissue masses on the heart), Kimberly (dehydration, diarrhea), Rosie (euthanized after belated treatment for a large uterine mass), one of a set of infant triplets, and Donna, a 36-year-old former Air Force chimpanzee, who died of severe infection in November 1999 after carrying a large, dead fetus in her womb for up to two months. A December 13-16, 1999 USDA inspection report documented four of the chimpanzee deaths and a whistle blower revealed that a fifth chimpanzee (Rosie) was euthanized for reasons previously described.

In January 2000, IDA called for the USDA to assemble a team of veterinarians and immediately assume responsibility for care of the TCF chimpanzee colony. IDA’s March 2000 testimony before a US House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee documented "TCF’s unparalleled animal welfare negligence as well as its violations of data integrity and human safety regulations." The testimony chided the NIH for continuing to subsidize research at a laboratory chronically in violation of federal animal welfare laws. Between 1993 and 2000, NIH had funneled at least $10,000,000 to TCF. IDA claimed NIH’s continued funding of TCF was illegal because federal law requires the NIH director to "suspend or revoke" funding if a lab is not accredited by AAALAC and does not have a functioning review committee. IDA had evidence that TCF’s Institutional Care and Use Committee (IACUC) had violated multiple federal requirements for approving research protocols. IDA called on Congress to investigate NIH oversight failures and IDA and others approached congressmen with a plan to take over half of TCF’s chimpanzees and turn the facility at Holloman Air Force Base into a sanctuary.

On April 14, 2000, Animal Protection of New Mexico (APNM) sued the USDA for the agency’s failure to provide records requested under the Freedom of Information Act on February 24. The complaint on July 26 after the agency again unlawfully withheld documents responsive to a May 25 FOIA request by APNM.

APNM’s FOIA requests sought copies of the USDA investigative files which led to the August 1999 Consent Decision and Order and investigative records created subsequent to the signing of the Order settling the agency’s initial charges against TCF. Although some records were eventually released to APNM, the USDA had withheld critical information requested including: • copies of key research protocols; • the results of necropsies (animal autopsies) performed on the chimpanzees; • the report of an External Review Team mandated by the Order; and • a videotape of spinal disc surgery performed on captive chimpanzee Leonard which shows "events that took place when Leonard was discovered to have overheated during surgery."

Documents that were released responsive to APNM’s lawsuit confirmed TCF’s atrocious record of inadequate veterinary care, established a chronic pattern of violations of federal animal welfare laws and TCF’s own research protocols, and revealed that TCF continued to breed chimpanzees in violation of the USDA Order. Despite this revelation, the USDA failed to levy a $100,000 fine held in abeyance pending TCF’s compliance with the Order.

In May 2000, the NIH took title to 288 of the chimpanzees held captive at TCF. An inventory obtained by APNM under the FOIA states: "All of these animal have been reported by TCF to be either purposely or incidentally exposed/infected with various hepatitis viruses and/or HIV and need appropriate biocontainment and specialized veterinary care." The NIH adopted a chimpanzee management plan developed by the National Academy of Sciences, which includes the 287 former TCF chimpanzees. The plan called for spending $4.2 million/year to care for 600 chimpanzees. On May 11, the NIH issued a request for proposals in the Commerce Business Daily, seeking "a contractor to operate and maintain the …long-term care facility" projected to house 350 chimpanzees. NIH failed to award a contract after reportedly receiving only two bids, one of which was from TCF.

APNM received a copy of the ERT report in late December. The report confirmed the continued inadequacy of TCF veterinary and animal welfare program and for the second time in two years withheld AAALAC accreditation. APNM and In Defense of Animals released copies of the report to the public at a press conference held January 9, 2001. State Senator Mary Jane Garcia promised to introduce legislation removing from the state’s animal cruelty statute the exemption for research laboratories. State Attorney General Patricia Madrid supported removal of the exemption and promised to prosecute cruelty to laboratory animals if the exemption were removed.

The USDA denied release of the videotape, maintaining that the videotape of the seven-hour surgery was entirely exempt from release under FOIA. The tape would have given the public a first hand view at USDA’s oversight of research at a laboratory supported, in part, with tax dollars. It would have enabled APNM to ascertain whether a federal agency is fulfilling its oversight responsibilities. Research sponsor Spinal Dynamics hotly contested the USDA’s release of the tape to APNM. Despite APNM’s offer to accept a version of the video tape from which views of the experimental disc would be redacted, Spinal Dynamics continued to maintain that release of any portion whatsoever of the videotape would cause the company substantial competitive harm. APNM learned that Spinal Dynamics had likely patented both the medical device and its implantation procedure, thereby eviscerating its claims of competitive harm which formed the basis for the USDA’s decision to withhold the tape. APNM litigated for the tape’s release. A settlement conference, held March 26 at the District Court offices in Las Cruces, upheld the USDA’s refusal to release videotape of a seven-hour surgery to insert an experimental disc into chimpanzee Leonard at TCF. In gaining approval for the surgery from TCF’s IACUC, research sponsor Spinal Dynamics had assured TCF the surgery would take about two hours. APNM learned that the USDA only obtained an hour’s worth of the videotaped surgery, the portion documenting a “spike” in Leonard’s temperature which was discovered when an attendant happened to feel the chimpanzee, whose temperature was not being monitored by the Spinal Dynamics surgeon. Spinal Dynamic prevailed in its claim that release of the tape might compromise its competitive position in marketing its product tested at TCF, despite evidence that the device was already patented. However, the judge required Spinal Dynamics to release a copy of the tape to APNM in which all sound has been redacted as well as images of the experimental device. Without sound, full views of the surgical suite and primate, the tape proved worthless to APNM in identifying other possible TCF violations of federal animal welfare laws.

In March 2001, APNM lobbied the New Mexico legislature to amend the state’s felony animal cruelty law by removing exemptions for intermediate carriers, handlers, and research laboratories. The legislature passed the bill and the governor signed it into law.

In April 2001, APNM contacted the New Mexico Board of Pharmacy and requested copies of TCF records on file.

In May 10, 2001, NIH's plans to purchase 14 infant chimpanzees bred at TCF in violation of the 1999 USDA Order are exposed.
On May 15, 2001, NIH awards lucrative $42.8 million contract to Boston-based Charles River Labs for oversight of the chimpanzee colony at Holloman Air Force Base. TCF employees start applying for jobs at Charles River Labs.

On May 19, 2001, Dr. Jane Goodall urgeed Tommy Thompson, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, to cancel NIH plans to purchase 14 baby chimpanzees and NIH’s contract with Charles River Labs.

On May 30, 2001, Dr. Jane Goodall urged federal officials to save the Coulston chimps.

On June 25, 2001, Chimpanzee Gina’s death was reported (she had been locked outside in desert heat).

On July 12, 2001, the USDA issued a fourth set of formal charges against TCF (AWA Docket No. 01-0044), noting that TCF had “failed to establish and maintain programs of adequate veterinary care” in relation to the negligent deaths of chimpanzees Ray (8/16/01) from an alleged “fungal infection” and Donna (10/27/99), from complications resulting from carrying a dead fetus in her womb for an extended period of time.

On July 31, 2001, The NIH canceled TCF’s Animal Welfare Assurance, making the lab ineligible for further federal research funds.

In August 2001, the New Mexico Board of Pharmacy provided the records requested by APNM in April.

On August 15, 2001, Rodey, Dickason, Sloan, Akin & Robb, attorneys representing the First National Bank of Alamogordo N. A. (First National), send TCF attorneys two letters demanding the repayment of more than $1.1 million in interest and loans the bank had made to TCF since April 16, 1997.

In September 2001, APNM reviewed the Pharmacy Board records, which raised serious concerns about the veracity of information provided to the Board by TCF in order to renew its annual animal control clinic and controlled substance applications. The records showed TCF failed to acknowledge to the Board disciplinary actions taken or pending by federal agencies as well as US District Court’s finding that TCF created a hostile work environment and sexually harassed a female former employee.

On September 20, 2001, a fire destroyed a TCF maintenance building. Arson is suspected and TCF claims $1 million in damage. The “arson” occurs little more than a month after attorneys for First National attempt to collect from TCF an estimated $1.1 million of debt. Bank foreclosure documents later revealed TCF received payment of an undisclosed sum of money on its insurance claim. The Animal Liberation Front later claimed responsibility for the fire, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, and Tobacco (AFT) continued their investigations and no charges were filed.

On October 25, 2001, APNM formally exposed to the New Mexico Board of Pharmacy TCF’s failure to disclose any federal complaints and enforcement actions as required, on its applications for licenses to dispense controlled substances. APNM asked the Board to investigate and to withhold approval of any TCF applications to renew it license to dispense controlled substances. APNM learned TCF’s license to dispense was not renewed. The Board begins investigating APNM’s complaint.

On December 11, 2001, First National files for foreclosure in the Twelfth Judicial District Court, County of Otero, State of New Mexico. (For full text of the filing, see: www.vivisectioninfo.org/Coulston/foreclose.pdf).

On January 14, 2002, after learning that TCF no longer held a license to dispense controlled substances but, according to TCF spokesmen, continued to conduct primate research, APNM and IDA file a joint complaint with the USDA asking the agency to act as “interim receiver,” to provide veterinary care for the animals at the lab, to operate the lab while foreclosure procedures concluded, and to permanently terminate all research experiments.

On January 14, 2002, APNM presented New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid (AG) evidence of TCF’s potential misappropriation of tax funds permanently restricted to endowments for the long term care of specific chimpanzees and asked the AG to investigate. APNM challenged TCF’s non-profit incorporation, citing the alleged misappropriations and TCF’s likely imminent bankruptcy.

On February 19, 2002, APNM requested a formal meeting with the AG and asked her to determine two issues: (1) whether the purposes for which TCF was incorporated by the state of New Mexico as a private non profit remained valid; and (2) whether TCF had unlawfully expended endowment funds permanently restricted for the lifetime care of specific chimpanzees.

On April 2002, APNM staff met with the AG to discuss the organization’s request for a formal state investigation of TCF.

On May 8, 2002, APNM met with AG staff and provided additional documentation regarding violations to be investigated. The AG immediately launched her investigation.

On August 2002, negotiations between TCF and the AG ceased when the AG issued a Civil Investigative Demand (CID) for TCF’s audited financial statements from 1993 through August 2002.

On September 5, 2002, TCF filed suit to block the AG’s request. TCF petitioned a state District Court in Alamogordo asking it to rule that the AG had no jurisdiction to request its audited financial statements. TCF claimed the New Mexico Charitable Solicitations Act—under which the AG seeks the records—did not cover the case.

On September 16, 2002, the Center for Captive Chimpanzee Care (CCCC), now called Save the Chimps, using a $3.7 million grant from the Kalamazoo, Michigan-based Arcus Foundation, purchased the beleaguered Coulson facilities. TCF “donated” 266 chimpanzees and 61 monkeys to CCCC as part of the deal. The chimps were immediately and permanently retired. Acquisition of the primates at TCF made CCCC the nation’s largest sanctuary for retired chimpanzees. The Arcus Foundation announced a dollar-for-dollar matching grant for operational support through 2003. CCCC director, primatologist Carole Noon, said the primates would remain at the Alamogordo facility until her group could build new quarters at CCCC’s 200-acre Fort Pierce, Florida sanctuary site. Meanwhile, CCCC immediately enriched the chimps’ Alamogordo environment by providing more interesting food, blankets, and toys. Veterinarians performed vasectomies on the male chimps so that family groups could be established and breeding would not occur.

On September 30, 2002, the NIH announced selection of Chimp Haven, Inc., a 200 acre Louisiana sanctuary located near Shreveport, to build and operate a sanctuary system for chimpanzees retired from federal biomedical facilities. Authorization of the program was established with passage of the federal CHIMP Act.

On October 21, 2002, APNM announced creation of a $10,000 challenge grant earmarked for care of the primates at Coulston. Funds raised by the challenge were matched by the Arcus Foundation. The $10,000 was quickly reached and funds were presented to CCCC by the end of 2002.

On October 23, 2002, Attorney General Patricia Madrid said her investigation into TCF’s alleged misappropriation of permanently restricted endowment funds would continue. APNM hoped that the AG could recover the misappropriated funds and create a new endowment to fund the lifetime care of the recently freed primates at TCF.



While approximately half of the original Coulston Foundation chimps are now enjoying permanent retirement and excellent care at Save the Chimps, over 200 chimpanzees still owned by the federal government at Alamogordo Primate Facility face re-entry into invasive research. Please get involved to retire the APF chimpanzees permanently!


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