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Coulston Faces Hard Times

22 August 2001 7:00 pm
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Founding father. The future of the Coulston Foundation may depend on Frederick Coulston.

A major U.S. primate facility has lost its permit to house and experiment on federally owned chimpanzees, raising questions about its viability. In June the National Institutes of Health (NIH) stopped funding the Coulston Foundation of Alamogordo, New Mexico, after finding a new caretaker, Charles River Laboratories, for 300 chimps housed at Coulston (ScienceNOW, 15 May). Later that month NIH officials let lapse a document, called an Animal Welfare Assurance, that allows Coulston to carry out federally funded animal research.

The foundation was formed in 1993 when businessman Frederick Coulston merged his several primate care ventures and created the nation's largest chimpanzee facility. At its peak, Coulston cared for more than 600 chimpanzees with a staff of 120.

Foundation spokesperson Don McKinney declined to comment on the number of chimps currently housed at the facility, the foundation's financial condition, or the size of its workforce. But available records suggest that the loss of federal funding will be a heavy blow. In the 1999-2000 fiscal year, 63% of the foundation's $4.1 million in annual revenues came from the government, according to tax returns obtained by animal-rights groups. And its ability to solicit contracts with private U.S. companies is restricted by a 1999 decision by the Food and Drug Administration that the center does not comply with good laboratory practice regulations, to which all advanced animal trials must adhere.

McKinney says the foundation has active private contracts but that all details are proprietary. According to tax records, the foundation's private contracts declined by 35% from the 1998 to 2000 fiscal years. Ronald Couch, former president of the foundation, says that investigations into possible animal welfare violations hurt the foundation's ability to attract private clients during his brief tenure in 2000. Coulston still faces an investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) over the deaths of two chimps in 1999 and 2000.

If history is any guide, the foundation's future may depend on the size of Frederick Coulston's personal cash reserves. The 86-year-old Coulston has given the foundation more than $7.5 million, according to NIH records and the foundation's tax returns.

Related sites

The Coulston Foundation
Charles River Laboratories
In Defense of Animals, a persistent critic of the Coulston Foundation

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