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Bed Time For Space Chimps

Twenty-one chimpanzees of illustrious lineage - and who are veterans of the space program - are being allowed to retire in peace.

Under a court settlement with the Air Force, the chimpanzees will be moved from a research laboratory in southern New Mexico to a sanctuary that the Center for Captive Chimpanzee Care will build in Florida.

They are among 111 chimps that the Air Force turned over to the Coulston Foundation lab last year over the protests of animal rights groups. In September, the Agriculture Department accused the Alamogordo, N.M., facility of mistreating its 650 chimpanzees and forced it to give up 300 of them.

"We know the American public will be thrilled with this outcome, as they have shown their concern and support for these wonderful chimps who involuntarily served in the Air Force," Carole Noon, the center's director, said Thursday.

The Boynton Beach, Fla.-based center, whose board includes renowned primatologist Jane Goodall, sued the Air Force after unsuccessfully trying to obtain its animals.

Primatologist Jane Goodall is on the board of the Center for Captive Chimpanzees.

The 21 chimps include 6-year-old Lil' Mini, the youngest offspring of Mini, the last surviving "astro-chimp" from the space program's early days who died last year at age 41.

The 111 chimps are descendants or companions of Ham, the first chimpanzee to fly in space, and of Enos, the first chimp to orbit the Earth. Some were used in early jet airplane research, including the development of ejection seats. In more recent years, more than half of the animals have been used in AIDS and hepatitis experiments.

None of the chimps bound for Florida is infected with the AIDS virus or hepatitis.

"Giving the chimps to Coulston was the easiest and cheapest option for the Air Force, as Coulston was already in possession of the chimpanzees pursuant to a lease agreement," said Robert Symon, a lawyer for the Florida center.

Coulston had operated an Air Force research facility at Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo since 1993. In addition to giving up 300 of its chimps, the Coulston lab has also agreed to improve its staff and facilities.

Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services restricted the lab's handling of animals used in agency-sponsored projects.

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