Commentary: Closing chimpanzee colony just the first step

Flo-formertest-chimpanzeeBy Bill Richardson

My friend Flo has had a rough life. I first met the 50-year-old, single mother of four some five years ago. When I visited, Flo welcomed me with a sweet disposition and a gentle demeanor. As a connoisseur of New Mexican cuisine, she flashed her beautiful light-brown eyes as she dined on her favorite meal of green chiles.

Flo’s life drastically changed when she became ill. She became anemic and developed cardiac arrhythmia. Her doctors had to chemically immobilize her more than 115 times as she was forced to endure hundreds of blood draws and biopsies. Flo’s bleak condition became worse when she lost custody of all four of her children. But I continued to fight to save her life and reunite her family.

Flo is not an indigent patient being treated in one of our critical-care hospitals. She is, in fact, one of about 150 former test chimpanzees held captive at a facility in Alamogordo, where she grew sick after being deliberately infected with multiple diseases, including polio, hepatitis and HIV — all in the name of biomedical research. Her story is part of the grim legacy of our country’s testing on chimpanzees, an inhuman practice for which I am grateful our federal government has finally put to a stop.

The recent announcement by the National Institutes of Health officials that they were retiring the 50 last remaining test chimpanzees, many of which are former colony mates of Flo, marks the end of a hard-fought campaign I helped launch five years ago as governor of New Mexico to permanently retire these animals so they could live out the remainder of their lives in peace. The NIH now says all test chimps, and former test chimps like Flo, will be moved to “Chimp Haven,” a federal sanctuary near Shreveport, La.

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