Associated Press Writer
NEW ORLEANS — The national sanctuary for retired federal research chimpanzees is expanding to bring in the 60 federally owned chimps remaining at a New Iberia laboratory.
With $2.8 million raised toward a $5 million goal, work has begun to finish seven play areas left unfinished when construction costs skyrocketed after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, spokeswoman Ashley Gordon said Monday. Attached underground bedrooms were completed before Katrina.
When the first play yards are done, some chimps can be brought from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s New Iberia Research Center to Keithville, in northwest Louisiana.
“Hopefully the first stage of construction will be completed by mid-fall so that we’ll be able to begin bringing them in in groups,” she said.
But money troubles loom. When Chimp Haven was created, Congress capped total federal support at $30 million. Gordon says about $700,000 remains.
“That will last us a couple of months,” she said.
The National Institutes of Health pays 75 percent of the $13,000 annual cost — about $9,750 — to care for each NIH chimp in Keithville.
Unless Congress lifts the cap, that would stop.
“We’re working with NIH to devise a plan” for continued support that could secure needed approval from Congress, Gordon said.
“We are still working with our legislators,” she said.
The NIH announced in June that it will retire about 310 government-owned chimpanzees from research over the next few years, keeping another 50 in case they are needed for crucial medical studies that could be performed no other way.
A study commissioned last year by the Humane Society of the United States estimated housing costs alone at $60 per chimp per day for federally owned chimpanzees held outside the sanctuary. That works out to about $21,900 a year for each great ape.
As more animals come to Chimp Haven, the cost per chimpanzee would drop due to economies of scale, wrote consultant Carl V. Phillips, an economist, epidemiologist and former professor of public health and medicine at the University of Alberta and the University of Texas.
The 165 chimpanzees now in the sanctuary include 151 owned by the NIH and 14 privately owned animals, Gordon said. Chimp Haven pays the full upkeep for those which came from private hands, including five that had been held at a closed Texas sanctuary, and that no other sanctuary would take because they were infected with HIV.
Retired game-show host and active animal activist Bob Barker, who paid last year for a habitat and a year of upkeep for those five, donated $1 million toward the current fund drive. So did sanctuary patron Anita Hirsh, who last year pledged lifetime upkeep for a baby conceived even though the father had undergone two vasectomies.
Chimp Haven would need another $20 million beyond its current fundraising to hold a total of 425chimps, Gordon said. She said that still wouldn’t be enough space for all of those owned by NIH.