A Long History of Abuse and Neglect of the Alamogordo Chimpanzees

The Physicians Committee

A Long History of Abuse and Neglect of the Alamogordo Chimpanzees

 Southwest National Primate Research Center’s History of Animal Abuse1950s: The U.S. Air Force establishes a colony of chimpanzees at Holloman Air Force Base made up of 65 young and infant chimpanzees captured in Africa.

1959: Forty chimpanzees to be used in the space program are trained using punishment for error. Electrodes were surgically implanted in the chimpanzees.

1961: Ham and Enos are trained for space flights using electric shocks. During Enos’ flight, a malfunction causes him to receive 35 shocks when he correctly performs a task, but he continues to perform the task correctly.

1964: Eight chimpanzees have electrodes surgically implanted into their skulls, sternums, and vertebrae in space decompression experiments.

1970: Chimpanzees are no longer needed for the space program so the Air Force begins leasing them to laboratories.

1972: Toxicologist Frederick Coulston, Ph.D., leases the chimpanzees.

1980: At Coulston’s private laboratory—the White Sands Research Center—chimpanzees are used for toxicity testing and infectious disease research.

1993: At Coulston, Robert, James, and Raymond cook to death when their unmonitored enclosures reach 150 degrees.

1995: U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors document Coulston’s Animal Welfare Act (AWA) violations and charge the laboratory with the deaths of Robert, James, and Raymond.


  • Jello—who was young and healthy—dies when food was not properly withheld prior to anesthesia.
  • Echo, an infant, dies because of improper treatment for shock following an attack by another chimpanzee.
  • That summer, dysentery takes the lives of several other chimpanzees.
  • Coulston loses its seventh veterinarian in four years.

1998: In an unprecedented move, the USDA charges Coulston with the deaths of Jello and Echo.


  • Six more veterinarians leave.
  • By the end of the year, only two full-time veterinarians are left to treat and care for nearly 1,000 chimpanzees and monkeys.
  • USDA cites Coulston twice in for failing to provide adequate veterinary care.
  • Holly dies from a known side effect of an experimental drug.
  • Terrance and Muffin die from the same side effect of the same drug.


  • USDA cites Coulston for violating the AWA’s psychological well-being requirements.
  • Coulston is charged for the deaths of Terrance, Muffin, and Holly.
  • Coulston violates a USDA order to stop breeding chimpanzees.
  • Eason dies during an experimental spine surgery.


  • Leonard dies during the same surgery.
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) stops funding the Coulston Foundation.
  • Ownership of the 288 Coulston chimpanzees is transferred to NIH.
  • Charles River Laboratories receives a $42.8 million, 10-year contract to operate the laboratory on Holloman Air Force Base, which does not allow the chimpanzees to be used in biomedical research. The laboratory was renamed the Alamogordo Primate Facility (APF).


  • Donna is found dead after carrying a dead fetus in her womb for two months.
  • Gina dies when locked in an outdoor enclosure and exposed to the desert heat.

2001-2010: The surviving chimpanzees live at APF where they are safe from invasive experimentation.


NIH decides to move the nearly 200 chimpanzees remaining at APF to the Southwest National Primate Center, which has a long history of animal abuse.

Since July 2006, the facility has been cited for at least 30  violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including performing a necropsy on a baboon who was still alive.

July 1, 2010: NIH moves 14 chimpanzees from APF to Southwest.

Dec. 31, 2010: Reprieve for 186 chimpanzees at APF. NIH requests an "in-depth analysis to reassess the scientific need for the continued use of chimpanzees to accelerate biomedical discoveries" by the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine. During this time, the NIH statement says, "Alamogordo chimpanzees will not be used in invasive research."

The Future for the Alamogordo Chimpanzees: NIH plans to return the chimpanzees—many of whom are elderly and in poor health—to cruel, invasive experiments at Southwest in 2011.

A.G. Koestler, ed., The Effect on the Chimpanzee of Rapid Decompression to a Near Vacuum, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Contractor Report, 1965, 67.

“Court Clears Chimp Facility,” Albuquerque Journal, June 16, 2007.

E.K. Sterreich, “14 Holloman chimps moved,” Alamogordo Daily News, July 24, 2010.

National Center for Research Resources, “Primate Resources,” http://www.ncrr.nih.gov/comparative_medicine/resource_directory/primates... (accessed Oct. 12, 2010); J.P. Henry and J.D. Mosely, eds., The Results of the Project Mercury Ballistic and Orbital Chimpanzee Flights, National Aeronautics and Space Administration Special Publication, 1963, 9.

New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS), Project Release and Restitution (Project R&R), “The Coulston Foundation,” http://www.releasechimps.org/labs/labs-closed/the-coulston-foundation (accessed Oct. 12, 2010).