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29 November 2000 Issue

DON'T LET DONNA'S MEMORY FADE
By Eric Kleiman and Suzanne Roy, IDA

ANNIVERSARY OF GRUESOME CHIMPANZEE DEATH AT COULSTON FDN. PROMPTS CRITICISM OF USDA, CALL FOR FEDERAL CHARGES

Courtesy of Eric Kleiman and Suzanne Roy, IDA

Washington, DC (November 9, 2000) Today is the one-year anniversary of the death of Donna, the 36-year-old ex-Air Force chimpanzee who died a gruesome and excruciatingly painful death at The Coulston Foundation (TCF) on November 9, 1999, In Defense of Animals (IDA) announced. IDA is marking this tragic date by demanding that the U.S. Department of Agriculture file formal charges against the New Mexico-based primate testing lab for multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act that the agency has admitted it uncovered during an official investigation that ended on May 26.

"One year has passed since Donna's gruesome, tragic death, and the USDA still has taken no action against Coulston for the abominable negligence that killed her," IDA program director Suzanne Roy said. "Although nothing can bring Donna back, or erase the excruciating pain that she needlessly suffered, we demand that some measure of justice be served."

"We demand that the USDA enforce the law and file federal charges immediately," Roy continued. "We will not allow Donna's death to be in vain, or allow Coulston and the USDA to get away with sweeping her egregious death under the rug."

USDA Western Regional Director Robert Gibbens, DVM, the official directly responsible for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act at Coulston, flatly stated in a June 22, 2000 sworn affidavit that the agency "anticipates" filing a formal complaint against Coulston based on evidence uncovered during the USDA's investigation of Donna's death. USDA launched the investigation after IDA made public the details of her death.

Four months after Dr. Gibbens filed the affidavit, the USDA has apparently backtracked from that sworn statement. In an October 31 letter of response to four members of Congress inquiring about the case, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman stated vaguely that the agency's findings were currently under "review," and that it would take "appropriate enforcement actions" if their "findings warrant it." The USDA took over six weeks to write back to the members, despite repeated requests by the Congressional offices for a response.

"The USDA continues to fiddle while Rome burns," said Roy, noting that yet another chimpanzee - ten-year-old Ray - has died at Coulston under extremely questionable circumstances, including an apparent failure to provide veterinary care despite his being ill for days. "How many more will die before the USDA acts appropriate[ly] on the evidence of negligence it has had for over five months?"

Donna died from a massive infection after carrying a large dead fetus she had carried in her womb for as long as two months. She was literally rotting from the inside out when Coulston veterinarians performed a belated C-section, removing one liter of pus from her abdomen and observing the partially decomposed fetus's skull through the ruptured wall of her uterus. Even then, TCF apparently did not give permission to euthanize her, allowing Donna instead to awaken from the nightmarish surgery in horrific condition. She died the next day.

Donna was a veteran of the U.S. Air Force's space research program, and was "divested" to TCF by the Air Force in 1998. Captured from the wilds of Africa at the tender age of 3, she spent the rest of her life incarcerated at Holloman Air Force Base in the New Mexico desert. There she was subjected to invasive procedures and tests of drugs before being turned into a "breeding machine," with at least 14 babies born in 26 years (in the wild, chimpanzees normally breed at most once every 6 years). According to the Air Force's behavioral profile, Donna was an "excellent mother" who enjoyed grooming humans and chimpanzees. According to Coulston nursery head Patty Cooper, Donna was a good teacher to her fellow chimpanzees, "sweet, probably one of my closest friends," and got along with everyone, human and nonhuman.

Coulston's website and promotional materials display a photo of Donna cradling one of her 14 babies, Spudnut. Coulston also shows a human baby and mother with the quote "This [human] mother and child owe a lot to this [chimpanzee] mother and child."

"This sweet, gentle and nurturing chimpanzee died an excruciatingly painful and gruesome death caused directly by Coulston's egregious negligence," stated Roy. "Is that the Air Force's way of honoring one of its veterans by dumping her at a lab with the worst animal care record in history? Is that Coulston's way of showing gratitude for Donna's 'sacrifice' in the name of Coulston 'science?'"

"We don't know which is worse: Coulston's actions, or the USDA's inaction," said Roy. "Dr. Gibbens' sworn affidavit speaks volumes about what the USDA found during its investigation and its inaction since that time. Indeed, the USDA's failure thus far to act in this matter makes a mockery of its oversight authority and responsibility for research labs."

"What has happened to the USDA that, for years, has worked diligently to enforce the Animal Welfare Act at Coulston?" Roy asked. "Why has it failed to act for over five months on the serious evidence of negligence that the agency itself uncovered? Has the USDA simply given up, despite its admirable and unprecedented record of upholding the law at TCF? Is it caving to political pressure from the National Institutes of Health, which continues to support the lab despite its unprecedented record of legal violations and negligent chimpanzee deaths?"

"IDA will not rest until Donna receives some measure of justice," Roy concluded. "We owe it to her, to Ray, to all of the chimpanzees who have died from Coulston's gross negligence, and, perhaps most importantly, to the survivors whose very lives remain at grave risk while imprisoned in this abysmal lab."

A memoriam for Donna, including her picture, is located at  http://www.idausa.org. ore information can be found at
http://www.vivisectioninfo.org/vivcampaigns/AFchimpdeath.html

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