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 »
I was so pleased to be joined by former New Mexico governor and United Nations ambassador Bill Richardson today in a mid-morning press conference to announce a collaborative campaign to secure a safe future for dozens of laboratory chimpanzees abandoned by the New York Blood Center on a set of islands in Liberia.
The Richardson Center for Global Engagement, led by one of the best-known negotiators in the world, is committed to holding the Blood Center accountable for its responsibility to chimpanzees but also to provide support for proper sanctuary of the beleaguered chimps until that responsibility is reclaimed. It was in March 2015 that the Blood Center, a charity with at least $400 million in assets, left more than 60 chimpanzees for dead. The abandonment happened at the worst possible time, during an Ebola crisis that consumed the attention of the government of Liberia and public-health advocates throughout the world, and in a habitat without sufficient food or water.
Gov. Richardson has emerged as a leader in the animal protection movement, and one of his signature achievements was triggering the campaign to end the use of chimpanzees in invasive experiments in the United States and retire them from U.S. laboratories to sanctuaries (I wrote about his decisive role in The Humane Economy). We’ve seen game-changing progress on both those fronts—with invasive chimpanzee research effectively ending in the United States last year and a current focus on moving hundreds of chimpanzees to sanctuary. We’re so pleased to now have the governor’s support on our work to help the abandoned chimpanzees in Liberia, marking an expansion of his concern about chimps to the global arena.
As readers of this blog know, New York Blood Center is still refusing to accept financial responsibility for the chimpanzees it exploited for years, despite immense pressure to do so. The Blood Center recently rejected our generous offer to run all operations and provide significant financial assistance for a problem that they created (instead, they offered to provide only a small fraction–less than five percent — of what it will cost to care for these animals over their lifetimes.) The Blood Center has since claimed it is willing to work with “other” organizations to find a solution for the chimpanzees. But this is a talking point and a hollow answer, since there are no groups waiting who have the resources and expertise to spend millions to care for chimps that the Blood Center put into this circumstance.
As part of our new phase in pressuring the Blood Center, Gov. Richardson and I recently sent a joint letter to nearly 90 of the Blood Center’s most significant organizational donors, urging them to join MetLife and Citigroup in saying they won’t support the charity until it fulfills its animal welfare responsibilities. We’ve already heard from the head of Xerox Foundation who called the situation “deplorable.” The HSUS has reached out to several of these organizations in the past—including large multinationals such as IBM and Johnson & Johnson and local, New York based foundations like the New York Community Trust—and we eagerly await their response. These companies risk their own reputation by continuing a business-as-usual relationship with the Blood Center, given its reckless course of action.
Thanks to dedicated donors, staff, volunteers, and the support of the government of Liberia, we’ve been able to stabilize the situation for the chimpanzees. And while we will continue to pressure the Blood Center, we cannot wait any longer to begin the next phase of planning for the long-term care of the chimpanzees in Liberia. The Richardson Center is generously providing support to help us get this effort off the ground. Continuing to work closely with the Liberian Institute for Biomedical Research and agencies within the government of Liberia will also be a critical part of this effort. We hope to partner with these institutions to create a sanctuary that meets high accreditation standards, similar to others in Africa and the United States.
The establishment of a high quality chimpanzee sanctuary—which would be the first ever in Liberia—will help not only the chimpanzees abandoned by the Blood Center, but also other animals in the country who are victims of the bush meat and pet trades. Well-run sanctuaries also have the added benefits of promoting wildlife conservation through the support of law enforcement, education, and public awareness campaigns, and providing opportunities for local communities through capacity building, employment, and tourism.
It’s great to have Governor Richardson on our side, and active. We are honored to work with him, and we know he’s now poised to add to his record of accomplishments for animals. We will keep you updated on our progress and hope we can count on you to help us in our efforts to give these chimpanzees the life they deserve, and to ensure that the Blood Center plays a significant financial role in making it a reality.