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The Rise of Coulston

April 5, 2002 • Posted in Fact Sheets and More

The infamous Coulston Foundation
Photo: © NEAVS

This section focuses on the early dealings of Frederick Coulston in his acquisition of the Air Force chimpanzees and the two decades that followed. Later events surrounding the Coulston Foundation’s abuse of chimpanzees can be found in the Coulston Foundation.

Following the first human space flights, the United States Air Force’s (USAF) use of chimpanzees came to an end in the early 1960s. Holloman Air Force Base was left with a population of chimpanzees they no longer needed.(1) Rather than releasing them to sanctuaries, the Air Force leased them out for biomedical research to Albany Medical College in New York.

Coulston ultimately acquired the largest chimpanzee laboratory in the world in spite of his reputation for controversial use and care of the chimpanzees and monkeys.

Coulston isolation
The horrors of isolation confinement
Photo: © NEAVS

From human prisoners to chimpanzees

Operated by Albany Medical College in name only, the actual laboratory continued to be operated out of Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, New Mexico. The man in charge of the Holloman lab was Frederick Coulston, a toxicologist, who had begun using chimpanzees for experiments as early as the 1940s. (2) (3) Coulston’s history included the use of human prisoners for toxicology tests, and he claimed that he turned to chimpanzees when his tests on humans were forced to end. (4)

A toxic focus on chimpanzees

A cigar chomping native New Yorker, Coulston was an active researcher who, among other activities, ran several toxicology labs throughout the U.S. In 1963, while in charge of Albany Medical College’s Institute of Experimental Pathology and Toxicology, Coulston responded to a request for proposal put out by the U.S. Air Force and was granted the contract to take over the chimpanzee lab at Holloman Air Force Base. (5)

The association between Fred Coulston and the Air Force chimpanzees proved to be a miserable and painful one for his victims. Coulston’s specialty was contract testing for drug and chemical testing companies. He described chimpanzees as the “best possible model to predict the fate and effects of foreign chemicals in man.” (6)

Coulston experiments

A listing of some publications by Coulston from the 1970s demonstrates his use of chimpanzees in drug and chemical experiments:

  • Urinary excretion of mercapturic acids in chimpanzees and rats (7)
  • Reproductive endocrinology of female chimpanzees: a suitable model of humans (8)
  • Metabolism, excretion, and tissue distribution of photodieldrin [an insecticide] in nonhuman primates following oral administration and intravenous injection (9)
  • Bile acid conjugation in the chimpanzee: effective sulfation of lithocholic acid (10)
  • The role of the chimpanzee in the evaluation of the risk of foreign chemicals to man (11)

A master of self-promotion

A man who courted the business end of science, Coulston continued his pursuit of bigger and better by continually expanding and re-packaging his labs. He named his first New Mexico lab The Institute of Comparative and Human Toxicology. (12) That would change to the Institute for Comparative Medicine, and later to the International Center for Environmental Safety.

By 1980, Coulston created a second primate laboratory also based in Alamogordo that was named Coulston International Corporation (where approximately half the chimpanzees would be housed at the White Sands Research Center).

This pattern of steadily renaming facilities emerged as a hallmark of Coulston’s style and continued over three decades. (13) It culminated in the final creation of the infamous Coulston Foundation in 1993.

1993: the world’s largest chimpanzee research lab

Coulston ultimately acquired the largest chimpanzee laboratory in the world in spite of his reputation for controversial use of the species. Clearly, using chimpanzees posed no ethical dilemmas for him.

By 1993, there were 1,300 primates at the Coulston Foundationincluding some 650 chimpanzeeshoused as commodities in damp, dark, cement cells.

Coulston claimed he envisioned breeding chimpanzees by the thousands to use potentially as blood and organ donors, although this never came about. He boasted that his facility was the only place where chimpanzees could “retire” since many other facilities were turning away from the high cost and ethical quandary of using chimpanzees.

An infamous animal welfare record

The Coulston Foundation became notorious for its record of animal neglect and poor veterinary care and dozens of unfortunate, unwilling nonhuman primates died there, even as the facility was cited multiple times by the USDA for failing to comply with the Animal Welfare Act.

In 2002, the Coulston Foundation closed due to escalating problems surrounding its financial failings and infamous reputation. (14)

Coulston died in 2003 at the age of 89. Quite possibly the fate of chimpanzees in U.S. research may have taken a different and less grievous course had it not been for this one man who fervently promoted their use in experiments.

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