Animal Writes
29 July 2001 Issue
Coulston Update

from In Defense of Animals 

Animal Advocates Predict Coulston's Collapse, Urge Congressional Hearings, Federal Takeover of Lab and Permanent Retirement of Chimpanzees

Washington, DC (July 25, 2001) - The reeling Coulston Foundation, a New Mexico primate testing lab, has been hit with an unprecedented fourth set of federal charges for multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act, In Defense of Animals and Animal Protection of New Mexico announced today.

The charges, filed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on July 12, relate to the negligent deaths of two chimpanzees named Donna and Ray, inadequate veterinary care, inadequate veterinary staffing, conduct of unapproved research, and multiple violations of a federal consent order. They follow similar complaints filed by the USDA in July 1995, March 1998, and February 1999. The July 12 formal complaint is available on the web at

"We're pleased that our evidence against this lab has been upheld by the USDA, and that some small measure of justice will be sought for Donna and Ray, who died horribly from Coulston's egregious negligence," said IDA Research Director Eric Kleiman.

The unparalleled USDA charges were prompted by evidence provided by IDA, which included whistleblower reports of negligence.

"This lab has been in continual violation of federal law for years and has thumbed its nose at federal authorities as the death toll keeps mounting," said APNM development director Harriette Roller, who noted that this is the tenth time Coulston has been cited for inadequate veterinary care, involving 14 chimpanzee deaths. Over 40 primates have died at the lab under conditions suggesting neglect, she added.

As a result, IDA and APNM are calling for "an immediate USDA takeover of the lab and the permanent retirement of the more than 300 chimpanzees imprisoned there."

The current charges against the lab include:

* "Failing to establish and maintain programs of adequate veterinary care" in the case of Ray, a ten-year-old, NIH-"owned" chimpanzee who was observed to be "ill and hypoactive [abnormally inactive]" but was not treated for two days, at which time he was found dead.

* "Failing to establish and maintain programs of adequate veterinary care" and "failing to provide adequate veterinary care" in the case of Donna, a 36-year old former Air Force chimpanzee who died of a massive infection after carrying a large dead fetus in her womb for at least two weeks. According to the USDA complaint, Coulston veterinarians performed belated surgery on Donna at which time she was "found to have a ruptured uterus, peritonitis and necrotic [dead] bowel." Despite her condition, Coulston veterinarians were unable to get permission to euthanize Donna, and she was allowed to recover from anesthesia in that agonizing condition. She died several hours later and "experienced severe pain before and after surgery," according to the charges.

* Failing to employ an adequate number of qualified veterinarians, a condition that continues to this day, according to the complaint.

* Engaging in research prior to approval by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), which by law must give the go-ahead to all protocols involving animals. The complaint also charges that the lab conducted research that deviated significantly from IACUC-approved protocols. This was the ninth time the lab has been cited for such violations, involving at least four chimpanzee deaths.

According to the complaint, each new charge also constitutes violations of a federal settlement order the lab signed with the USDA in August 1999 to settle previous formal USDA charges. The assessed $100,000 penalty was held in abeyance unless the lab violated the consent order's conditions.

Coulston officials have repeatedly denied the violations, even claiming publicly that Donna "received the best medical care" and that Ray died of "routine medical complications." One Coulston official, Kay Izard, also accused IDA of "exaggerat[ing]," but the USDA complaint upheld IDA's allegations.

The groups predicted that the latest charges should be the death knell for the lab, which has been teetering on the verge of bankruptcy for years and has survived only as a result of a two-year, $3.09 million bailout from the National Institutes of Health. IDA's Kleiman said that the NIH's illegal financial support for Coulston ended May 31. He predicted that without these federal funds, Coulston would fold.

"Now the question becomes, what happens to the chimpanzees at Coulston? Who steps forward to provide the funds necessary to care for these long-suffering individuals and ensure that they get the permanent retirement they so richly deserve?" he asked, suggesting that all the entities involved in supporting and/or giving chimpanzees to Coulston must be involved in funding the chimpanzees' permanent retirement. These include the entities that "dumped" chimpanzees on Coulston - the U.S. Air Force, New York University, and New Mexico State University - as well as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, whose various agencies used Coulston chimpanzees for research and breeding for years.

Kleiman reserved special criticism for the NIH, which enabled Coulston's negligence to continue by illegally funding the lab for years while it was consistently violating federal animal welfare laws. All of the new charges occurred during the NIH's illegal $3.09 million bailout. Kleiman directly blamed the NIH for Ray's death. The young chimpanzee was one of 288 whom the NIH took "ownership" of last year but left under the control of Coulston for over a year, despite the lab's abysmal animal care record.

"The NIH cannot be allowed simply to 'wash its hands' of the disaster it has both enabled and created at The Coulston Foundation," Kleiman concluded. "The NIH's actions are a scandal of national proportion. We urge Congress to investigate and hold the NIH accountable for the lies it has repeatedly told, the laws it has repeatedly broken, and the chimpanzees it has supported and now discarded at Coulston."

IDA is an international animal rescue and advocacy organization based in Mill Valley, Calif. APNM is a statewide animal advocacy organization based in Albuquerque

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