In mid-August, several months after news broke that the NY Blood Center (NYBC) abandoned 66 of its former lab chimpanzees on islands in Liberia, a primate rescue group called ATO based in West Africa alerted great ape advocates worldwide to the existence of yet another colony of chimps abandoned by NYBC.
According to Betsy Brotman, the director of NYBC’s lab in Liberia and a vocal critic of group’s decision to abandon its chimpanzees, NYBC relocated 20 chimps to an island in the Ivory Coast in 1983, when they were no longer needed for research. When the local Ivorian hired by NYBC to deliver food to the chimps failed to perform his job, NYBC was, due to political unrest, unable to retrieve the chimps to bring them elsewhere.
According to a report compiled by the World Conservation Union, eight chimpanzees died or disappeared during their first three weeks on the island, and three more died during the following months. One year after their arrival, only nine chimps remained.
A local farmer and his son Germain learned about the plight of the abandoned chimps and brought them bread and bananas, a substandard diet that could not sustain many of the chimps who were already physically compromised by the NYBC experiments.
By December, 2013, only four chimps remained – a male, a female and their two babies. In a two day period that month, all but the male, Ponso, perished. Germain, the local farmer, said that Ponso helped him bury the dead by tossing dirt over the graves of his family.
When word spread in August 2015 about Ponso’s plight, the Facebook group NYBC: Do the Right Thing helped raise money so that ATO could begin making relief missions to him. The following video documents the first mission:
Ideally, Ponso would be rescued and relocated to a primate sanctuary with other chimpanzees, but great ape charities say that West African governments are reluctant to issue transport permits for animals who have been exposed to diseases. Many of the NYBC chimps were infected with hepatitis. The recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa only complicates the movement of primates across country borders.
The primate rescue group ATO asserts that NYBC has made no effort over the past three decades to provide these chimps and their offspring with food, enrichment and veterinary care.
NYBC executives have not yet commented publicly on the 20 chimps who they left to die in the Ivory Coast. When confronted by mainstream media about this atrocity, will they shift the blame to the government as they have done in Liberia?
Advocates in New York City are escalating their campaign to pressure NYBC executives to fulfill their promise to pay for the care of their former lab chimps. On August 30th, a group of advocates traveled to the Hamptons, a wealthy enclave three hours away from NYC, to protest at the beachfront estate of NYBC Chairman Howard Milstein.
In September, activists will not only continue to protest against Mr. Milstein at his NYC apartment building but will also begin protesting at the home and office of NYBC Board Member Dr. Laurie Glimcher, the Dean of Cornell Medical School.
The survival of Ponso depends on the generosity of the local farmer Germain and the West Africa-based primate charity ATO. Please support their efforts to keep Ponso alive by contributing to “SOS Ponso.”