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Chimp Deaths Spark Negligence Charges

Troubles continue at the Coulston Foundation, the country's largest primate research facility. According to allegations made in the last week by In Defense of Animals (IDA), an animal rights group, six chimpanzees have died at the Alamogordo, New Mexico, lab since last August. That's when Coulston and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a settlement agreement that resolved charges of animal-care infractions in exchange for improving conditions and transferring half of its 600 chimps to other facilities (Science, 10 September 1999, p. 1649).

Among its latest round of complaints against Coulston, IDA claims that Coulston vets were negligent in caring for a chimp named Donna, who died of massive infections after carrying a dead fetus in her womb for at least 2 weeks. A USDA report from December, obtained by IDA and made public yesterday, cites Coulston for failing to complete bloodwork to determine the specific cause of several other chimps' deaths.

Coulston spokesperson Don McKinney says the foundation is formulating its response to the USDA report. As for Donna, he says, Coulston vets had closely monitored her condition and had delayed surgery to remove the fetus in order to allow her to gain strength after failed attempts to induce delivery. The National Institutes of Health--Coulston's main source of funding--says its Office of Protection from Research Risks and the USDA are looking into the chimps' deaths. An independent team of inspectors, part of the settlement agreement, is also due at Coulston in the next few weeks. If Coulston is found to have been negligent in any of the deaths, it could face sanctions.