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Retirement Home for Lab Chimps Being Built Near Shreveport, La.

The Washington Post -- Finally, after more than four decades of public service, it’s retirement time for Rita.

The 47-year-old chimpanzee, brought to the United States from Africa by the U.S. Air Force in the 1950s, is a prime candidate for a new retirement home to be built near Shreveport, La. The facility is expected to cost at least $35 million, most of it federal money, to build and operate over a 10-year period.

Under a $19 million contract awarded Monday by the National Institutes of Health, Chimp Haven Inc., a nonprofit group based in Shreveport, will operate “a sanctuary system for all chimpanzees retired from federal biomedical facilities,” the group announced. In addition, Chimp Haven said it plans to contribute $6 million in matching funds.

NIH said the sanctuary “will provide lifetime care for federally owned or supported chimpanzees that are no longer needed for biomedical research.”

The chimpanzee retirement community is to be built on 200 acres of forested land donated by Caddo Parish, La., and is scheduled to open by spring 2004. NIH said it also plans to provide about $10 million to fund construction of the sanctuary, including administrative offices, infrastructure, utilities, an education center, quarantine facilities and what Chimp Haven described as “indoor and outdoor housing” for 200 chimpanzees. Eventually, the sanctuary is to be expanded to accommodate more than 300 chimps.

The sanctuary will be run by a staff of about 25 people, including a full-time veterinarian, and will feature “non-climbable walls” and moats to keep the chimps from leaving their forested preserves, said Linda Brent, president of Chimp Haven.

“After these chimpanzees have endured years in medical research laboratories, society owes them a tremendous debt,” said Larry Hawk, president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.