OHIO STATE TO CLOSE ITS PRIMATE CENTER, RETIRE ITS CHIMPANZEES
COLUMBUS , Ohio – Ohio State University officials have decided to close its long-standing chimpanzee research center and retire those primates to an animal refuge in Texas.
The nine chimps currently housed at the center will be moved to the San Antonio refuge where they will live out the remainder of their lives. No research is allowed on animals kept at the refuge.
The decision, announced today, is the culmination of a nearly four-year effort to find a new home for the animals.
In recent years, research institutions across the country – including the Air Force, the National Institutes of Health and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration – have elected to reduce the amount of primate research they conduct and retire many of their animals. That has made locating an appropriate long-term home for the animals a more difficult task for Ohio State.
“While we are rightfully proud of the outstanding research that has evolved from Ohio State 's primate cognition project in the last decade or so, we believe the time is now right to move the animals to safer quarters where they can live out their lives in peace,” explained Robert McGrath, senior vice president for research at the university.
Two earlier agreements with other refuges have fallen through during the last two years. Under an agreement with this third refuge, Primarily Primates, Inc., the animals will be transported by truck to the Texas facility where a new permanent facility is being built for them.
Ohio State is paying for construction of that facility, for medical exams and shipping, and providing an endowment to support the animals.
Costs for the transfer of the animals will be covered by the university's Office of Research and are expected to total approximately $324,000. Previously, the cost of operating the OSU chimp center has reached nearly $200,000 annually.
The current chimp facility, located off Godown Road north of campus, was last refurbished in 1991 when the university housed only five animals in the building. Since then, the total chimp population has risen to nine animals, most of which are either adult or nearing adolescence.
The current population, five males and four females, ranges in age from five to 47 years old. Chimpanzees can reach 65 to 70 years old in captivity.
”At one point, we considered dividing the colony and shipping the older animals to the refuge but experts have advised seriously against dividing such a long-standing colony,” McGrath said. “We believe it is best for the animals' welfare to keep them together as a single social group.”
Responsibility for the operation of the chimp center now reverts to William Yonushonis, director of the Office of Laboratory Animal Resources and the university's senior laboratory animal care veterinarian. Yonushonis and a nationally-recognized primate specialist toured the Primarily Primates, Inc., facility last fall in anticipation of this move.
Under an agreement with Primarily Primates, Inc., the animals will live out their normal lives in a spacious, free-roaming environment.
Primarily Primates is a well-respected animal sanctuary located north of San Antonio in the Texas Hill Country. Among the approximately 700 primates now living at the facility are approximately 70 chimpanzees.
The temperate climate in the area allows animals to use combined indoor-outdoor housing facilities offering a more natural free-roaming environment.
“This sanctuary is one of the best in the country for chimpanzees and offers these animals a much better environment than we are able to provide at this time. The staff there is well-respected nationally and completely dedicated to the health and well-being of the animals in their care,” Yonushonis said.
Along with the overcrowding posed by the current facility, McGrath also cited safety concerns as another reason for retiring the chimps.
These animals are, pound-for-pound, five times stronger than humans and pose formidable challenges when agitated. Moreover, overpopulation at the facility can increase stress within the colony itself leading to attacks by one animal on another.
McGrath acknowledged that a recent incident where a student worker was bitten by one of the chimps underscored existing concerns about the safety of the colony and those working there but he emphasized that the incident wasn't the reason for closing the facility. An investigation into the specifics of that episode is ongoing.
“We have had an agreement with the project's director, Professor Sally Boysen, since 2002 that if adequate new research funding was not obtained to support the colony, then the university would seek to move the animals to an appropriate refuge,” he said. “We have delayed that move for nearly two additional years to allow for the researchers' efforts to secure such support.”
University officials noted that in recent years, research funding for primate research across the country has been shrinking and that university-based primate colonies are becoming harder to support. Since the 2002 agreement, nine research proposals were submitted by the researchers to traditional funding agencies but all failed to win support.
Over the past two decades, Ohio State studies with the chimps have netted remarkable discoveries. One project recognized the animals' ability to perform rudimentary addition and subtraction while another showed the animals' capacity for altruism, a trait long thought to be only human.
Still another project showed the animals' ability to link symbols and models to everyday tasks, while even more recent work suggested the animals may be capable of the simplest form of reading.
McGrath said that the university would work with Professor Boysen to help her continue her research with animals off the OSU campus.
Contact: Earle Holland, (614) 292-8384; Holland.firstname.lastname@example.org.