ALAMOGORDO, N.M., July 25 -- The Department of Agriculture again has filed animal welfare charges against a federally funded scientific research facility that uses non-human primates in medical experiments.
Officials filed the charges on July 12. They accused the Coulston Foundation in Alamogordo, a research company partially supported by the National Institutes of Health, of killing two chimpanzees by failing to provide them adequate veterinary care as required by federal law.
The facility also was charged with failing to hire enough staff veterinarians and engaging in research without the approval of a legally mandated oversight committee.
"This is an on-going, quasi-judicial process so we are not going to comment," Coulston spokesman Don McKinney told United Press International. "But I can say that we are going to refute the charges."
The two chimps cited in the current charges were named Donna and Ray. The complaint said the 36-year-old Donna died after her keepers failed to notice that for weeks she carried a dead fetus in her womb. It noted Coulston veterinarians performed surgery on the animal and found a ruptured "uterus, peritonitis and necrotic (dead) bowel."
McKinney told UPI in June employees had not noticed Donna was pregnant because chimpanzees her age typically are not able to conceive. Ray, a 10-year-old chimp, according to the charges, was "ill and hypoactive (abnormally inactive)" but died after veterinarians failed to provide proper treatment.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the USDA, which brought the charges, previously had filed complaints against Coulston in 1995, 1998 and 1999. The company entered into a consent decree with the government in 1999, promising to make changes in its animal care procedures. If found guilty of the latest charges, the company would stand in violation of that decree and face a possible fine of $100,000. Apart from violations of the consent decree, individual breaches of the Animal Welfare Act can carry a maximum fine of $2,750 for each violation per animal per day.
According to documents on the USDA Web site, in 1995 inspectors said Coulston employees had failed to "provide water to 14 non-human primates at its White Sands Research Center on Dec. 17, 1994, and for the preceding several days, causing all (the) primates to become severely dehydrated and causing the death of four of them."
Inspectors also charged that employees allowed the temperature in one den to reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit, causing some of the animals to die. Similar charges were brought in 1998 and 1999.
"It's almost beyond comment," said Eric Kleiman of the animal rights group In Defense of Animals, based in Mill Valley, Calif. "It's unprecedented. No facility has ever had two sets of charges brought against it for negligent animal deaths. This place has had four all while being funded by the National Institutes of Health."
A USDA spokeswoman told UPI she could not immediately verify how many times the Coulston facility had been charged.
IDA has monitored and fueled Coulston's legal problems partly by publicizing last month what it said were insider accounts of animal cruelty at the facility.
IDA and other animal rights groups, such as the Animal Protection of New Mexico in Albuquerque, take issue with the NIH funding, claiming NIH officials have misrepresented to Congress facts relating to its funding of Coulston. NIH officials did not return phone calls to UPI.