Chimp Haven starts $5.1M expansion drive

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The national sanctuary for retired federal research chimpanzees in Keithville, La., hopes to raise $5.1 million to make room for 110 chimps being moved from a lab in New Iberia and to prepare for even more.

Spokeswoman Karen Allen said $2.6 million would create space for the federally owned chimps being moved from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette's New Iberia Research Center. The rest of the money would be used to add a quarantine building and housing for more animals at the sanctuary, where 123 already live.

Chimp Haven received some big gifts this year. Included were more than $600,000 to house and care for five chimpanzees infected with HIV, and a pledge of $13,000 annually in lifetime support for a surprise baby. Although chimps live an average of 45 years in the wild, their lifespan in captivity is about 60 years.

Unless medical or other problems prevent it, the chimps live in social groups as they would in the wild.

Healthy chimps rotate between big, moated play yards and adjacent habitats with trees for climbing and nesting. About 60 percent were infected with HIV, hepatitis C or other diseases for research; those chimps have play yards covered with mesh, Allen said.

The initial work would include finishing six play yards and an open-air enclosure left incomplete because construction costs skyrocketed after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It also would add sleeping rooms to another area where there's already plenty of outdoor room to play, and add play yards to an area with more than enough bedrooms, Allen said.

The work will result in $1.2 million in annual spending and provide 16 new jobs, director Linda Brent said in a news release.

Much of that spending would buy local produce and hay for the chimps, assistant director Jennifer Whitaker said.

The National Institutes of Health has said it will send 10 of the animals to Chimp Haven and the rest to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute of San Antonio, where they will not be used for research. However, Whitaker said Chimp Haven could add more than 20 to existing groups and is hoping to do so.

U.S. Sens. David Vitter, a Republican, and Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, have asked NIH Director Francis Collins whether $3 million unused in a 10-year contract that ended in July might be used for construction at Chimp Haven.

"The cost would eventually be offset and the savings over the long term would be significant — potentially $700,000 a year," because it costs much less to keep chimpanzees in sanctuaries than in labs, they wrote.

Allen said the privately operated, nonprofit sanctuary got a new 10-year contract in July. The first came in under budget partly because Chimp Haven has fewer animals than originally expected and partly because "we were very careful with the money," she said.

Right now many questions about the New Iberia chimps are unanswered, including how many are healthy and how many carry infectious diseases — or even their ages and genders, Whitaker said.

Chimp Haven has already needed big money this year. Retired talk show host Bob Barker gave $600,000 to help build a habitat for five chimps with HIV and pay their expenses for three years. And Anita Hirsh of Los Angeles pledged lifetime support for a baby born even though the father had two vasectomies.

NIH pays three-quarters of the $13,000-a-year cost of supporting chimps used in federal research, but the sanctuary must cover the entire cost of others, and all costs for creating habitats.

The drive's second, $2.5 million phase would increase Chimp Haven's capacity to 308 animals. Its master plan calls for more than 400.

"Many more than that are in biomedical research waiting to be retired," Whitaker said.

She said an NIH working group is expected to report in January on how many chimpanzees should be taken out of research programs.

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Online: www.chimphaven.org

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