The remaining 220 chimps at a New Iberia research facility that not long ago faced becoming lab experiments will be relocated to a primate sanctuary in northern Georgia, officials said Tuesday.
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, which runs the New Iberia Research Center, and the safe-haven group Project Chimps announced that an agreement has been reached after two years of negotiations to transfer the chimps to the 236-acre sanctuary in the rolling hills of Blue Ridge, Georgia.
The chimps were placed on the federal endangered species list last year, making them off limits to research. The first shipment of 10 chimps is slated to be sent to the sanctuary in June, with others to follow over time.
The news follows the 2014 relocation of 110 research chimps, which were owned by the National Institutes of Health, to Chimp Haven in Keithville, a few miles south of Shreveport.
Sarah Baeckler Davis, a Project Chimps founder, said the chimps going to Georgia would be moved “in social groups” to the sanctuary over “the next several years.”
UL-Lafayette, which took over the research center in the mid-1980s at the urging of former Gov. Edwin Edwards, will help fund the sanctuary.
“Project Chimps is the appropriate partner for our chimpanzees,” Ramesh Kolluru, vice president of research at UL-Lafayette, said in the statement issued by Project Chimps on Tuesday.
“We share many values,” Kolluru said. “I believe that for the rest of their lives, our chimpanzees will be provided with the high-quality care they’ve been accustomed to” at the research facility..
The relocation will not shut down research at the center.
About 6,300 other primates are kept at the center in New Iberia: African green monkeys; capuchin cebus monkeys; rhesus macaques; pig-tailed macaques; and cynomolgus macaque, according to UL-Lafayette spokesman Charles Bier.
The center and the research on monkeys that is conducted there has drawn protests from animal rights activists through the years. One of the center’s critics is Michael Budkie, executive director of the Stop Animal Exploitation Now, or SAEN.
Budkie, in news release, lauded the relocation of the chimps and UL-Lafayette’s commitment to help pay for their care at the Georgia sanctuary.
“But what about their responsibility to the other … primates at ULL? … When will they retire? Most likely the only way these animals will leave ULL is in a body bag,” Budkie said.
Other critics included 29 protesters on a Primate Freedom Tour in 1999 who camped out for days outside the research center, located about 12 miles southeast of Lafayette, near the sprawling Acadiana Regional Airport outside New Iberia.
One of the protesters stayed inside a metal cage and went on a hunger strike to declare her objections to conducting tests on living beings. “I feel so passionate, we have to be the voice for the voiceless. There’s so much cruelty in these labs,” Jennifer Schneider told an Advocate reporter from inside the cage on that hot July day in 1999.
According to the university’s website, the research center at one time only provided primates to the government and to private industry for tests. Then, in 1990, scientists at the center expanded into other areas, including conducting tests for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.
In 2014, the center was recognized for conducting vaccine trials in New Iberia in efforts to fight Ebola.
Over the years, the center has been cited and fined for mistakes made in the care of its primates. In 2013, UL-Lafayette paid the U.S. Department of Agriculture a penalty of $38,571 for the 2011 deaths of three rhesus macaques, and the injury of a chimp in 2012. The university said it self-reported the incidents.
In 2010, the university had to pay $18,000 to the USDA to settle violations of the Animal Welfare Act that government inspectors found in reviews done in 2009. None of the violations were deemed to be mistreatment of the primates.
The government inspectors who found the violations were following up on complaints lodged by the Humane Society of the United States, which had an undercover investigator inside the center in 2008. A video taken by the investigator was released in 2009 and shown on the Internet and also on an ABC “Nightline” news segment.