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APF and the New Mexico Supreme Court

May 6, 2008 • Posted in

Following the 2002 death of Rex, a 16-year-old chimpanzee at the Alamogordo Primate Facility (APF), the New Mexico Supreme Court is determining if his death was due to abandonment/neglect or if staff conduct fell within the definition of “practice of veterinary care.”

In 2002, Ashley, another 16-year-old chimpanzee, died at APF after severe blood loss and in 2003, Topsy, 26 years old, was severely injured but recovered. Both of these chimpanzees fell under the veterinary care exclusion making action on their behalf not possible. Criminal charges against a laboratory are not possible under the veterinary care exclusion provided by law.

Prosecutors said Rex was disconnected from medical devices after anesthesia and suctioning to keep him from choking. Animal care workers left after instructing security to check on him.

Charles River Labs (CRL), under a 10-year contract with the National Institute of Health, says it provides humane treatment for the chimpanzees. CRL argues that its handling of Rex, Ashley, and Topsy falls under veterinary exclusion. New Mexico Assistant Attorney General Max Shepard said that the case is “about a decision to not provide any health care after 4pm. The state alleges this does not constitute the practice of veterinary care. This was a business decision, a save-money decision.”

The New Mexico legislature recognized in 2001 that an exemption for research labs under the state’s criminal animal cruelty statute was not justifiable (such blanket exemptions are common in many states). The New Mexico legislature’s action was prompted by ongoing abuses at the Coulston lab and the federal government’s inability, given the cruelty law exemption, to effectively intervene.

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