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 »
Controversy for the New York Blood Center is sure to ratchet up, with sisters, actresses, and New York natives Rooney Mara (“Carol,” “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) and Kate Mara (“House of Cards”) in the picture.
The two recently flew halfway around the world to the West African nation of Liberia to get a firsthand look at more than 60 chimpanzees left for dead by the New York-based charity. Motivated by the chimps’ travails and the loving care administered by the people we’ve hired to provide for them, the Mara sisters wrote an open letter to the Blood Center and called on its leaders to work with The HSUS to ensure their long-term safety.
Rooney and Kate are dedicated to helping right this wrong and not letting Blood Center officials avoid responsibility to care for the animals they used for invasive experiments for decades and previously pledged to look after for the remainder of their lives.
The Blood Center abandoned the chimps in Liberia a little more than a year ago, at the worst possible time, as Liberia was then ground zero for the Ebola crisis. The charity’s leadership stopped payments to the caretakers at the facility even as fear and a massive public health crisis gripped the country. It is worth noting that in the decades preceding this act of abandonment, the Blood Center made millions off vaccines and other treatments it had developed, in part by using chimps.
The Blood Center literally cut and ran, leaving the chimps to fend for themselves on a small complex of islands with no fresh water and no natural food supply. A U.S. government official notified us and other animal protection groups, and The HSUS and Humane Society International sent funding for an emergency crew to care for the chimps. We, along with a coalition of 37 organizations and chimpanzee experts, have been at it ever since – for more than a year now — developing strong leadership and best practices there and employing about 30 staff to care for the long-suffering creatures. The chimps get fresh water and food every single day, and, according to Kate and Rooney, they look robust and healthy, far more so than when we began our intervention.
The burn rate for The HSUS – which of course had no role in creating this crisis and which is working on a plan to care for hundreds of chimps who will soon come out of government and private laboratories in the United States – is $20,000 a month. What’s more, infrastructure is needed to provide proper care for the chimpanzees (something the Blood Center failed to do) and we may need to move the operation, since our team is temporarily located in a facility dedicated to biomedical research. The cost of these efforts, needed to secure the future of the chimps, may be in the millions of dollars.
The visit to meet the chimpanzees was an emotional one, not just for Rooney and Kate, but also for our staff members, including Kathleen Conlee, vice president of animal research issues, whose team has been working tirelessly to help the animals for the last year. “Pulling up to each of the six islands for the first time, being greeted by Bullet, Samantha and the other chimpanzees, were magical moments,” Kathleen told me. “They were so excited to see us. They were no longer the desperate and screaming chimpanzees who were fed only every other day for years and then left to die.”
Kate and Rooney are appalled by the actions of the Blood Center. At this point, who isn’t? The charity’s head-scratching behavior is made even more appalling when you consider this is a well-endowed organization, with more than $400 million in assets. Spending even $400,000 a year to care for animals it put into this situation is not only a manageable expense, but a core responsibility. Buffeted by criticism, the Blood Center has offered nothing but vacuous excuses for this mass abandonment.
We are glad to have Rooney and Kate on the case. Join us in asking the New York Blood Center to renew their commitment to these chimpanzees. The HSUS has shown time and again that we have the ability to work with our adversaries to find solutions to help animals in need. It’s not too late for the Blood Center to accept responsibility for a situation of its design.
P.S. After you take action, please consider making a donation for the continued care of these chimpanzees. We’re so thankful to generous donors who’ve lent their support thus far.