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Animal Rights Groups Commend OU's Decision To Wind Down Baboon Program

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After years of scrutiny and recent condemnation from animal rights groups, the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in El Reno announced it will be ending its embattled baboon program by 2019. After years of scrutiny and recent condemnation from animal rights groups, the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in El Reno announced it will be ending its embattled baboon program by 2019.
EL RENO, Oklahoma -

After years of scrutiny and recent condemnation from animal rights groups, the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in El Reno announced it will be ending its embattled baboon program by 2019.

News 9 investigated the center in July, revealing it housed 199 baboons in outdoor pens filled with platforms, hollow tubing and wooden obstacles and surrounded by concrete walls. 

That was followed closely by reports that 23 young baboons have died while inside the secretive facility.

The university announced Tuesday, it would be winding down the baboon program. The release does not mention how much it could cost or where those animals would go.

9/8/2015 Related Story: David Boren Announces That OU Will Wind Down Baboon Program

University of Oklahoma officials would not go on camera with News 9 but did say in the statement, "driving this decision is the goal of the University to carefully prioritize and assign limited funds to mission critical research endeavors." 

Animal rights advocates say they've been watching the OU center for years.

It's been on the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) watch list for nearly a decade.

Dr. Alka Chandna, a laboratory oversight specialist for PETA, said they had been watching the OU facility since 2005, citing poor inspection grades from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"There were issues where the welfare of the primates was much compromised, sometimes because of neglect, sometimes because of incompetence, because there wasn't enough care given or oversight with what was happening with these animal," Chandna said.

OU said it will dismantle the baboon program over a three to four year period. During that time, it will allow research to be completed, but it will not be seeking any more grants from the National Institutes for Health for the program.

Animal rights groups commended the decision to shut down the program, but they're anxious to see what happens next. 

Some, like the group Stop Animal Exploitation Now! (SAEN), suggested the center be turned into a baboon sanctuary, in a letter to the university president.

"There is a very big worry that animals will either be euthanized or they will be sent to other labs,” Dr. Jessica Ganas said.

Ganas is a development director at Mindy's Memory Sanctuary in Newcastle. The sanctuary houses non-human primates.

“These animals have dedicated their lives for humans, for research and they absolutely deserve retirement in sanctuary,” she said.

The release from the university references the baboon program, but makes no mention of the other animals living in the center. PETA estimates close to 700 other non-human primates also live in the facility.

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