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 »
The New York Blood Center has posted a dreadful Q and A justification on its website, defending its abandonment of 66 chimpanzees in Liberia – animals it used in invasive experiments for three decades, and pledged to provide lifetime care for. In March, the NYBC ceased paying $30,000 a month to care for the colony, giving the Liberian government, a cash-strapped democracy beset by the Ebola crisis, just two months’ notice. It was only after a whistleblower broke the news to the world that The HSUS and other organizations learned of the NYBC’s plans to cut and run. The HSUS, Humane Society International, and other animal welfare groups swung into action, in order to avoid the colony’s death by starvation and dehydration, funding caretakers to get to the islands to hydrate and feed the chimps, fix equipment, and stabilize their dire situation.
We are now bearing the cost of caring for the chimps, and it’s about $20,000 a month for us.
“The Government of Liberia and animal rights organizations knew all along that our support was voluntary and could not continue… and yet they did nothing to help us,” reads the appalling website post by the NYBC. The assumptions built into this statement are almost too ludicrous to comprehend. They are essentially arguing that after an organization with more than $300 million in annual revenue gathers animals from the wild and from the pet trade, infects them with the hepatitis B virus to intentionally sicken them, and then decides it doesn’t want them any longer, it’s the duty of animal welfare organizations to fund the care of the animals?
We at The HSUS get that any organization dealing with larger social problems and challenges must make choices. We make choices all the time, and they are difficult ones. But we must all adhere to some basic norms in our society. Pay your staff. Adhere to the law. Honor your pledges. Handle financial liabilities of your own making. Do not transfer those liabilities to other organizations and the rest of society.
The NYBC must think that animal protection groups do not already have an immense set of responsibilities. News to the NYBC: our organizations spend enormous sums caring for distressed animals, in the United States and throughout the world. We work hard to pass laws and to foster a sense of responsibility among individuals and corporations to treat animals responsibly and not to put them in harm’s way in the first place.
We are not asking the NYBC to take care of all of the captive chimps in the United States. We are not asking them to care for all of the captive chimps in Africa. We are not even asking them to take care of all of the chimps in Liberia. We are asking them to take care of the chimps they used in experiments — chimps they used to develop vaccines that generated massive revenue for the NYBC.
Then the NYBC’s statement gets even more mindboggling: “Who should be denied a lifesaving blood transfusion because our resources have been diverted to other efforts? Who shouldn’t receive a bone-marrow transplant? A life-saving stem cell treatment?”
If we follow this logic, then the NYBC should perhaps dispense with all of its other responsibilities and obligations in its single-minded focus to pursue its mission. Why not disregard animal welfare standards under the Animal Welfare Act for any animals it uses, since by cutting corners they could save money and put more resources into transfusions? In fact, why pay any scientists for their work, since that pay is going to inflate underlying costs and minimize the money going to treatments?
It’s important to note that we are not talking about a group operating on a knife’s edge, as if it’s in an emergency situation, and forced to make a terrible choice — like a train conductor seeing people on one track and a group of chimps on the other, forced to make a choice to kill some so that others may live. The NYBC has net assets of more than $400 million, and an annual revenue stream of more than $300 million. We are simply asking the organization to pay $20,000 a month to care for the chimps it conducted experiments on for so many years. Its scientists and animal handlers knew the costs, and some of them promised to provide the care. In fact, the Center generated hundreds of millions of dollars from royalty income for therapies coming from its research program that it purports to have developed through the use of the chimps, making its moral obligation even more painfully obvious.
In 1997, an expert panel from the National Research Council concluded that chimpanzees no longer needed in research should be retired to appropriate sanctuary (and not euthanized as is the fate of other laboratory animals), and properly supported, on humanitarian grounds. A broad representation of experts and stakeholders agreed, including representatives from Congress, primatologists like Jane Goodall, and chimp researchers, including the NYBC’s own Dr. Alfred Prince. The NYBC ‘s position is not merely obnoxious; it is way out of step and way out of line.
We have offered the NYBC a fresh start and invited its leadership to an open discussion on how it can honor its obligation and reduce its financial costs of care for the chimps. We are willing to work with the NYBC to see that the animals are allowed to live out the rest of their lives in some measure of peace and security, with proper care and facilities. Properly executed, the NYBC’s care for the chimps could be a boon to Liberia and could even help ensure the welfare of the surviving wild chimpanzee population in that nation.
And yet, the NYBC has not even replied to our requests. In fact, when we showed up at the NYBC last month with a petition on the issue, the NYBC refused to even accept the petition which has 175,000 signatures. Instead, we’ve gotten just another lame and self-serving posting, from a large, well-heeled organization that could resolve this situation in a heartbeat. It can do much better than this, and it should. Our offer still stands. The NYBC should address this situation and honor its responsibilities.