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Florida Sanctuary Retires All Chimpanzees and Monkeys At Defunct Coulston Primate Lab

ALAMOGORDO, N.M., Sept. 18 /PRNewswire/ -- The notorious Coulston Foundation primate-testing laboratory has shut down and each of the 266 chimpanzees and 61 monkeys will be permanently removed from research, the Center for Captive Chimpanzee Care announced today.

The Center, a non-profit organization that currently cares for 25 chimpanzees at its innovative sanctuary in Florida, took over the Coulston facilities on September 16. The primates range in age from 2 to 40 years old.

"We are thrilled to offer these long-suffering chimpanzees and monkeys the best possible outcome in the nearly decade-long controversy over this laboratory," said Dr. Carole Noon, founder and director of the Center." After endless rhetoric nothing had been accomplished on the chimps' behalf. They had run out of options. The Coulston Foundation had been reduced to selling baby chimps just to make payroll. Now we begin the process of rehabilitation and restitution for the terrible wrongs inflicted on these individuals in the name of science."

The Center was approached this spring by Foundation CEO Dr. Fred Coulston, whose lab was facing bankruptcy and foreclosure after years of mounting regulatory problems and opposition from animal advocates. Prior to contacting the Center, Coulston had tried and failed to find a buyer for his financially ruined lab.

According to the Center, the Coulston Foundation was investigated at least seven times and formally charged an unprecedented four times by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for violating the federal Animal Welfare Act. The charges included the negligent deaths of ten chimpanzees and four monkeys.

Among these were Donna, a 36-year-old chimpanzee formerly owned by the Air Force, who died from a massive infection and ruptured uterus after carrying a large dead fetus in her womb for weeks, as well as Robert, James and Raymond, who literally cooked to death when a malfunctioning heater sent the temperature in their cage soaring to 150 degrees.

Coulston was also facing possible disqualification of his lab by the Food and Drug Administration for widespread and repeated Good Laboratory Practice violations. In 2001, after repeated inspections, the FDA warned Coulston that it would not accept any study results from its lab while the violations continued. This eviscerated the lab's private client base.

In 2001, after years of funding the lab despite its record of violating federal law, the National Institutes of Health discontinued all support to Coulston. The move dealt a deathblow to the lab, which had received as much as two-thirds of its annual income from the federal agency.

In addition to the loss of its critical NIH funding and inability to attract private clients because of the FDA sanctions, the lab was dealt another crippling blow when its major creditor, First National Bank of Alamogordo, filed foreclosure papers last December for over $1.1 million in outstanding loans. Over the past year, state and federal tax liens filed against the lab totaled $427,000.

Until the Center stepped in with an offer to purchase the Coulston Foundation buildings and equipment conditioned on the donation of all the chimpanzees and monkeys, the lab was unable to make payroll and its employees were threatening to walk.

The Center's purchase was made possible by an unprecedented grant of $3.7 million from the Arcus Foundation of Kalamazoo, Michigan, a long-time supporter of the Florida sanctuary.

According to Dr. Noon, if the Arcus Foundation had not embraced her vision and taken responsibility for these chimpanzees their future at best would not have been anything more than continued misery and exploitation. "This is the largest single effort on behalf of captive chimpanzees ever," said Dr. Noon.

The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, Doris Day Animal League, Friends of Washoe, In Defense of Animals, and New England Anti-Vivisection Society provided additional support.

Among the chimpanzees being permanently retired are 16 of the celebrated Air Force chimpanzees, who are survivors or descendants of chimpanzees used in the U.S. space program. Also included are chimpanzees unceremoniously dumped by the NIH, New York University and New Mexico State University and acquired by Coulston.

"We are pleased to initiate this effort to save hundreds of chimpanzees from the hopeless and hidden world of biomedical research," said Jon Stryker, founder of the Arcus Foundation. "It's time to fulfill society's responsibility for these individuals who were used by science then callously discarded by the federal government and academic institutions. Our commitment includes a dollar for dollar matching grant for operational support through the year 2003."

With the addition of the 266 Coulston chimpanzees, the Center will care for 291 individuals who will be housed at expanded facilities in Florida and, at least temporarily, in New Mexico.