High-Profile Animal Research Center Breeds Chimps Against Policy

The New Iberia Research Center (NIRC), an animal testing facility located in Louisiana is currently being investigated for the birth of 137 chimpanzees. In most cases, the birth of monkeys would be a good thing, but not in this case. A breeding moratorium was put in place in 1995 that banned the breeding of federally owned chimpanzees. These baby chimps all have at least one federally owned parent (making their births a violation of the moratorium) and all of them are used for the purpose of animal testing.

It all started when the Humane Society of the United States used Louisiana and the US freedom of information laws to create a ten year chimpanzee birth records for the NIRC. What they discovered during their research was that 137 of the animals born at the testing facility between 2000 and 2009 had at least one federally owned parent. Of the 137, 14 were killed by an adult chimp, which meant 123 living chimps remained. This accounts for more than one-third of the total number of chimps housed within the facility.

Upon learning of the violation, the Humane Society tipped off the US Senate, stating that the NIRC should no longer receive their $1 million annual government funding grant because they are in direct violation of the breeding moratorium. They have also asked the Department of Justice to fine the testing center a sum of $30 million for that violation.

“They are breeding in what seems to be violation of government contracts,” Kathleen Conlee, the society’s senior director of program management says. “They shouldn’t be receiving funds if they are not following the grant agreement.

Director of the NIRC, Thomas Rowell says that he does not dispute the births, but he argues that the facility is not violating the moratorium because the center retains ownership and pays for the care costs of the chimps. They say that their actions are “consistent” with the terms of the moratorium and that no action should be taken.

Critics see it differently, however. One such critic, Gregory Kaebnic, an ethnicist at the Hastings center in Garrison New York says that the ownership of the chimps is irrelevant. While this may keep the center “within the letter of the law,” they are still “well outside the spirit of the law.” He says that the cost is only a part of the reason for the moratorium; ethical reasons also played a part in the development of the moratorium.

Kaebnic also pledged accusations that the NIRC’s responsibility to the offspring is nothing more than an effort to cover up the births that never should have occurred in the first place and that the center failed to use effective contraception methods to prevent the births.

NIRC says that they did take measures to reduce the births within the center and that the recent births fall far below the numbers that were seen when the center was “in a breeding mode.” He states that they implemented measures like vasectomies in males and intra-uterine devices in females. They even housed males and females separately when it was possible. The facility did not, however, prevent all mating, he admits, just in case the moratorium was ever lifted.

Even more intriguing is the part that the NIH has played in the birth of the chimps. While they say that they are “investigating the matter,” one would think that they must have had prior knowledge to the chimpanzee births, especially considering the fact that they received a sum of more than $6 million since 2002 for providing the National Institute of Medicine with 4 to 12 infant chimpanzees annually. These chimps were and have been used to study the spread of viral diseases like hepatitis C and HIV. Based on information provided by the Humane Society at least 50 of the sold chimps were born to NIH owned animals.

Bruce Wagman, a partner and animal law expert in San Francisco says that the NIH was fully aware of the births, and that rather than enforce the breeding moratorium, the NIH sold the chimps in an attempt to “pass off the costs” so that they could have a way to say “it’s no problem.” Wagman also says that “The moratorium is absolute,” and that it was put in place because “more and more people are becoming conscious of the fact that chimps in research suffer in horrible ways that we don’t want them to be suffering.”