Finding Sanctuary

Last of Alamogordo Research Chimps Can Retire in Comfort


In March the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit dismissed the National Institutes of Health’s appeal of a federal court ruling that the agency broke the law by withholding sanctuary retirement from federally owned chimpanzees formerly used in research. The appeal was dismissed at NIH’s request.

In 2021, the Humane Society of the United States, Animal Protection New Mexico, Humane Society Legislative Fund and three individual plaintiffs sued NIH after the agency reneged on its commitment to sanctuary retirement for all chimps owned or supported by the federal government. Instead, NIH decided to retain dozens of chimps at the Alamogordo Primate Facility – the same New Mexico laboratory where they were previously used in experiments – for the remainder of their lives. Twenty-six chimps currently remain at the Alamogordo facility.

In December 2022, a Maryland federal judge held that NIH’s decision was unlawful under the Chimpanzee Health, Improvement, Maintenance and Protection (CHIMP) Act, a 2000 law which created and funded the federal chimpanzee sanctuary system. NIH initially appealed that ruling but has abandoned the appeal, meaning the lower court’s ruling stands and the chimpanzees cannot lawfully be denied sanctuary retirement.

 “Moving forward, we are grateful for this outcome and also encouraged that National Institutes of Health Director, Dr. Monica Bertagnolli, stated during her confirmation hearings last fall that she supports sanctuary for the 26 remaining chimpanzees at the Alamogordo Primate Facility in New Mexico,” said Gene Grant, chief program and policy officer-animals in science for Animal Protection New Mexico.

Due to advances in non-animal methods of research and testing, and changes in their legal status under the Endangered Species Act, chimpanzees have not been used in federally sponsored research since 2015. Before issuing the decision challenged in the lawsuit, NIH had previously declared all remaining federally owned chimpanzees, including the Alamogordo chimps, eligible for retirement to Chimp Haven, the federal sanctuary. Chimp Haven provides former research chimps with superior veterinary and behavioral care and an open, natural living environment while also saving taxpayer dollars.