source: Houston Press
Opal the chimpanzee is 34 years old and lives in an enclosure at the Southwest National Primate Research Center in San Antonio.
Her medical file describes her as “light complexion, freckled, thin, big ears that stick out, white beard, green eyes.” The file also states that she’s endured 19 liver biopsies and 219 chemical immobilizations, according to the Humane Society of the United States’ review of federal inspection reports. She’s also infected with hepatitis B.
“Her records show a history of plucking out her hair and eating it, a behavior associated with stress and trauma,” a Humane Society report states.
Opal is one of 20 chimps owned by the National Institutes of Health that were transferred to Southwest from the Alamogordo Primate Facility in New Mexico, where hundreds of chimps had been retired from biomedical research. Opal and her peers were called out of retirement in 2010 and were once again made available for testing.
And now, in the wake of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to declare captive chimpanzees endangered, animal welfare groups are calling for Opal and 19 other federally owned chimps at Southwest to be permanently retired.
The Alamogordo chimps had originally been used for research by the U.S. Air Force, but in 1970, the Air Force leased them to private labs. One of those labs was run by toxicologist Frederick Coulston, head of the Coulston Foundation. At his peak, Coulston had control of roughly 600 chimps.
In 1993, three chimps — Robert, James, and Raymond — overheated and died when their enclosures reached 150 degrees, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s review of federal records. The USDA cited the Coulston Foundation for the deaths of those three, plus two more who died in 1997, then again in 1998, when Terrance, Holly, and Muffin died “from a known side effect of an experimental drug,” according to the Physicians Committee.
In 1999, the Coulston Foundation settled with the USDA and agreed to transfer ownership of 300 chimps to the agency by January 2002.
But a USDA inspection report shows that Opal was still in Coulston’s custody in April 2002. She was one of 14 chimps Coulston kept in single cages. The inspectors wanted to find out why that was.