EDITOR’S NOTE: GOOD NEWS! The HSUS and the New York Blood Center have announced an agreement to provide long-term sanctuary for the Liberian chimpanzees. READ THE UPDATE »
Today, Kathleen Conlee, our vice president of Animal Research Issues, was in New York with Dr. Brian Hare, Change.org petition starter, Amanda Ketterer, a youth representative of Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots program, and other HSUS staff to deliver petitions signed by more than 185,000 people, asking the New York Blood Center (NYBC) to reinstate funding for a colony of more than 60 chimps it formerly used in invasive experiments. NYBC terminated funding for the chimps’ long-term care abruptly in March. Some years ago, a senior official with the group pledged that even though the organization was no longer using the chimps in experiments, it would fulfill its responsibility to care for them throughout the remainder of their lives. To our shock and dismay, in March, we learned that NYBC flip-flopped on the issue, and The HSUS, Humane Society International, and generous individuals stepped in to pick up the pieces and to provide food, water, and other basic life-support services in an emergency situation. More than 35 other organizations have joined our coalition and stand with us.
We aren’t going away on the topic, and I truly hope NYBC stops the stonewalling and agrees to a long-term solution. This is not conduct becoming a reputable charity – to cut and run and to abandon animals it profited from. What’s more, NYBC took this action at the worst possible time – as Liberia was reeling from the Ebola crisis, hindering the ability of the government and other players in the country to step in and provide support.
This circumstance reminds me that more work must be done for chimps. But we’ve faced many challenges along the way to protect chimps. At each stage, we’ve overcome those challenges and won major victories to improve their circumstances.
- In 2000, we worked with Congress to pass the CHIMP Act, which anticipated the transfer of some government-owned chimpanzees used in laboratory experiments to sanctuaries. The legislation established a public-private partnership to fund a portion of capital construction and ongoing care at sanctuaries. While some sanctuaries have opted not to use public resources in the years since, others, mainly Chimp Haven, have, and that support has been crucial in allowing for dramatically upgraded care for these creatures.
- In 2007, at the urging of The HSUS and others, Congress strengthened that law to prevent any possibility that chimpanzees retired to the national sanctuary system would be recalled for experimentation in labs.
- In 2009, The HSUS released the results of an undercover investigation at the New Iberia Research Center, and it showed some chimps living in isolation and many of them languishing in confinement even though they were not used. This investigation highlighted the problems associated with using these animals in invasive experiments and keeping them in long-term housing, with the attendant physical and psychological problems of this type of captivity.
- We, along with organizations such as Animal Protection of New Mexico, worked with our allies in Congress – particularly Senator Tom Udall, and former Senators Tom Harkin and Jeff Bingaman – to call for the National Institutes of Health to assess whether the use of chimpanzees in invasive experiments is necessary. Dr. Francis Collins, the director of NIH, empaneled a group of scientists to examine the question, and two years ago, that panel concluded that they are no longer necessary for research. Collins and The HSUS announced plans to facilitate the transfer of the chimps to sanctuary – a major moment in the fight to phase out the harmful use of the largest number of captive chimps.
- In 2013, funding for the CHIMP Act was in jeopardy, and we worked with our allies in Congress, including Representative Fred Upton and Senator Harkin, to provide authorization for additional funding, so that animal groups would not have to carry the financial burden entirely for long-term care of the chimps. President Obama signed that bill in 2013.
- Last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, responding to a petition from The HSUS and other groups, listed all chimpanzees, including captive ones, as endangered. This should make it much more difficult to use chimps in film and television, the pet trade, and in biomedical experiments. This action should hasten the end of the use of chimps in public and private research.
This series of actions demonstrates we’ve been able to achieve transformational outcomes for chimps. I list them against the backdrop of the NYBC essentially casting aside the chimps once under its care. As with the other challenges we’ve faced in our chimp-protection efforts, we’ve stayed the course and turned around the fortunes of chimps time and again. We couldn’t have done so without generous support of the Arcus Foundation for so many facets of our work, including emergency response in Liberia.
We’ll stick with this fight until NYBC honors its prior commitment and until there is a long-term plan to secure the health and well-being of these beleaguered animals.