The National Institutes of Health (NIH)-owned chimpanzee facility in Alamogordo, New Mexico, faces new animal-welfare accusations. On 7 September the state district attorney in Otero County filed criminal animal-cruelty charges against Charles River Laboratories, which runs the facility under a 10-year contract from NIH, and veterinarian Rick Lee, who heads the staff there. The charges stem from the deaths in 2002 of two chimps, both of which were left in the care of night security guards although they were severely ill or injured, and the near-death of a third, who also was left overnight under the care of security guards.
The facility, located at Holloman Air Force Base, has a controversial history. The chimpanzees at the facility are largely the offspring of animals used in early space-flight experiments. In 1998, the Air Force awarded 111 of the 141 animals they still owned to the Coulston Foundation, a research lab headed by Fred Coulston. (The remainder were sent to sanctuaries.) The foundation, however, was dogged with accusations of negligence and animal cruelty, and in May 2001 NIH awarded a contract for the care of the animals to Charles River (Science, 27 September 2002, p. 2193).
A group that has long criticized the facility, In Defense of Animals, claims the situation has not improved. Based on reports from whistleblowers inside the lab, the group lobbied the district attorney to bring animal-cruelty charges in the deaths of two chimps: Rex, a 16-year-old with liver and kidney failure, allegedly was left unconscious in the care of night security guards when the daytime shift of medical personnel ended. He was found dead a few hours later, apparently having suffocated on his vomit. Ashley, a 16-year-old female, was attacked by 11 other chimps and severely injured. Although prone to hemorrhage, she allegedly was also left without medical care overnight and was found dead by security guards. Critics also charge that a third chimp, Topsy, a 26-year-old female, was left without care overnight while bleeding from a wound sustained in a fight. She was found listless and pale the next morning and required emergency blood transfusions.
Charles River issued a statement saying that "in all three cases, APF [Alamogordo Primate Facility] veterinarians provided the immediate and appropriate medical attention necessary to the animals." NIH said in a statement that the facility has passed inspection from the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International, but that they will "continue to review the issues" raised by the charges.