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Chimp Haven: all 110 chimps once in U Louisiana-Lafayette lab now retired in NW Louisiana

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NEW ORLEANS — All 110 chimps from a laboratory in New Iberia have been moved to Chimp Haven in northwest Louisiana, according to the national sanctuary for chimpanzees retired from federal research.

The last group of about 20 arrived the week of June 18 but Chimp Haven waited to announce their arrival until they all were out of quarantine, the sanctuary's President and CEO, Cathy Willis Spraetz, said Wednesday.

"After a long road, seeing these chimps retired is a precious moment to celebrate," said Kathleen Conlee, vice president for animal research issues of the Humane Society of the United States. She said she looks forward to more such celebrations as the National Institutes of Health carries out a plan announced a year ago to end most use of chimpanzees in medical research and retire about 310 of the animals.

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette decided in September 2012 not to renew its federal contract for studies using chimps at its primate lab in New Iberia, retiring 110 of about 350 chimpanzees.

Chimp Haven, an independent, nonprofit organization, now has 212 chimpanzees in 20 groups, Spraetz said. The NIH pays three-quarters of the upkeep cost for animals it owns. The sanctuary pays the entire cost for animals that had been privately owned.

Spraetz said staffers are still getting acquainted with the newest group. Spring arrivals from the New Iberia Research Center included a brain-damaged chimp and one that seemed mentally and physically slow until veterinarians lowered the dosage of a seizure medication prescribed by university veterinarians.

Ned, a male whose head was injured as an infant, has made friends with Monkey — a small male with a malformed chin and lower lip from injuries during a seizure — and females named Sassy and Paula, Spraetz said. Veterinarians are now considering reconstruction of Monkey's lip.

The NIH had originally planned to send only 10 of the New Iberia chimps to Chimp Haven and the rest to a laboratory in Texas, but Chimp Haven embarked on a $5 million expansion drive to make room for all of the animals and raise money for their care. The expansion had been part of its original plans, but was derailed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Construction resumed last year. Since then, six play areas have been completed, making room for all 110 animals. Several bedrooms and one large open playground that would allow further expansion are near completion, officials said.

The sanctuary has raised $3 million toward its goal.

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