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HSUS’s Chimpanzee Debacle

April 6, 2021 by 10 comments


The News

In June 2020, I posted an article entitled “Why I’m Blowing the Whistle on HSUS” in order to raise awareness of the plight of chimpanzees at two sanctuaries run by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) – Project Chimps in Georgia and Second Chance Chimpanzee Refuge in Liberia. Both are plagued by substandard facilities, deficient veterinary care and unqualified management. At Project Chimps, the residents are held in concrete rooms for all but about 10 hours a week because HSUS has not created enough enclosed yards on its “236-acre wooded habitat” to be able to provide the 77 chimps with daily access to the outdoors. Instead of acknowledging and fixing these serious, systemic problems, HSUS has used its PR machine to minimize them or deny that they exist. It has also used its lawyers to silence and intimidate those who speak out.

Precious, a chimpanzee at Project Chimps

In May 2020, HSUS inadvertently shined a national spotlight on Project Chimps by suing two women who came forward with credible and extensive evidence of animal neglect. Appalled that HSUS would sue whistleblowers (an intimidation tactic typically associated with big animal ag), animal advocates around the country, including several with expertise in captive primate care, stepped in to support the whistleblowers and amplify their calls for reform at Project Chimps.

Project Chimps, an HSUS sanctuary, sued former employees Crystal Alba and Linsday Vanderhoogt after they came forward publicly with evidence of animal cruelty

Despite not having visited Project Chimps, I believed the whistleblowers – not only because of the evidence they provided, but also because I saw the same problems during my two visits to HSUS’s chimp “sanctuary” in Liberia. There, HSUS is overseeing the care of over 60 ex-lab chimpanzees who the New York Blood Center (NYBC) moved to islands on a river when they no longer needed the chimps for experiments. Despite having received a $6 million check from NYBC in 2017 and hundreds of thousands of dollars in large and small donations from the public since 2015, HSUS has not built any desperately needed infrastructure on the islands.

National Geographic published an in-depth story that corroborated their allegations.

In October 2020, The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), an organization of animal rights lawyers who represent captive chimpanzees and elephants, took the unusual step of issuing a public statement calling on HSUS to improve animal welfare at Project Chimps. NhRP was particularly distressed by the fact that Hercules and Leo, chimpanzees who they freed from a laboratory, did not have daily access to the outdoor habitat. HSUS dismissed their concerns, arguing that the concrete porches where they spend their days are outdoors.

HSUS claims that the 77 residents of Project Chimps have daily access to the outdoors, but advocates believe this is misleading because the “porches” are enclosed concrete rooms

The Nonhuman Rights Project issued a public statement demanding that Project Chimps provide its clients, Hercules and Leo, with daily access to the outdoors

On March 21st, NhRP marked the three year anniversary of Hercules’ and Leo’s arrival at Project Chimps by issuing another public statement, this time asking its global network of supporters to call on HSUS CEO Kitty Block to provide Hercules and Leo with daily access to the outdoors. NhRP and PETA, which also issued a statement, must have agonized about publicly criticizing another animal advocacy group, but, by repeatedly dismissing the concerns they raised in private, HSUS left them with no choice.

The Nonhuman Rights Project is asking its supporters to call on HSUS CEO Kitty Block to give the chimpanzees the choice to spend their days in the forested habitat

Primate community stakeholders (sanctuary directors, primatologists and veterinarians) are aware of the systemic failures at Project Chimps, but they have not spoken out publicly. That can be attributed to a desire to avoid infighting or, more likely, to a fear of retaliation. HSUS is well known in the animal advocacy community for using its resources to intimidate and silence its critics. It used its lawyers at Seyfarth Shaw LLP, a global law firm with 12 offices in the U.S., to represent Project Chimps in its lawsuit against the whistleblowers. (HSUS ultimately dropped the suit, but not before the whistleblowers spent $30,000 on legal fees, a very large sum for young people earning a modest sanctuary salary.)

Fear of retaliation also helps to explain why former Project Chimps employees, who bonded with the chimpanzees, have been silent for the last year. Their fear of violating their termination agreements, however, could be outweighed by their desire to help the chimps.

The Nonhuman Rights Project is calling on The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to provide its clients, Hercules and Leo, with daily access to an outdoor yard.

A conflict of interest could also explain why stakeholders in the primate sanctuary community have been silent. Many receive monetary and/or non-monetary support from HSUS that they cannot afford to turn down.

Since writing my first article about the plight of the chimps in HSUS’s care, advocates have asked me why HSUS, an organization whose mission is to protect animals, is failing the animals in their own care. I can only surmise, based on my experience at its chimpanzee sanctuary in Liberia, that HSUS doesn’t want to spend the money to transform Project Chimps into a real sanctuary. This frugality is inexcusable not only because of HSUS’s considerable wealth, but also because the organization has raised millions of dollars off of the plight of captive chimps.

The 77 chimpanzees at Project Chimps have access to an outdoor habitat for approximately 10 hours per week. They spend the remainder of their days in concrete porches that HSUS and Project Chimps describe as “outdoors”

Over the past several months, outside inspections that revealed serious deficiencies have left HSUS with no choice but to publicly acknowledge problems at Project Chimps in Georgia, but the organization has downplayed the problems as minor. If HSUS were to acknowledge the seriousness of the problems, then it would be forced to make the necessary investments and to acknowledge that the whistleblowers who they sued were right all along.

Continued public pressure will ultimately compel HSUS to fix the systemic failures at Project Chimps, but shouldn’t HSUS have wanted to live up to its promise to provide a “great home for retired chimpanzees” in the first place?

Progress For Science, a Los Angeles-based animal rights group,  protests at the Santa Monica home The Humane Society of the United States board member Steven White over the mistreatment of animals at its Project Chimps sanctuary

In order for HSUS to uphold the mission of Project Chimps “to provide lifelong exemplary care” to the chimpanzees in its care, it must do the following:
  1. Begin constructing additional yards on its 236 acre forested property so that the chimps have access to the outdoors every day instead of every third day.
  2. Rotate two groups of chimps (instead of one) into each of the two yards every day (one group in the morning, and the other in the afternoon) so that the chimps have access to the outdoors between 4 and 5 times each week.
  3. Hire an Executive Director who has chimpanzee experience; who instinctively prioritizes the welfare of the animals and who has the respect of his or her peers in the primate sanctuary community.
  4. Hire a veterinarian and vet tech who have chimpanzee expertise.
  5. Appoint two people to Board of Directors of Project Chimps who have captive chimpanzee experience and are willing and able to function independently from HSUS.

PETA Protests Canada Goose at Flagship Store and Saks Fifth Avenue in NYC

March 10, 2021 by 1 comment


The News

As part of a “Week of Action” targeting Canada Goose over its use of coyote fur and goose feathers, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) staged protests at the company’s flagship store in Soho and at the department store Saks Fifth Avenue, which sells Canada Goose apparel.

In a statement to the media, PETA wrote, “Cruelty can be found in every stitch of Canada Goose’s jackets and other clothing items. Coyotes used for the company’s fur trim can suffer in painful steel traps indefinitely before they’re killed. Mothers desperate to get back to their pups have attempted to chew off their own limbs to escape. Ducks and geese suffer for down as well—no matter their origin. Birds used for their down are inevitably sent to the slaughterhouse, where standard practice is to hang them upside down, stun them, and then slit their throats.”

Canada Goose traps and kills coyotes for their fur and plucks and slaughters geese for their feathers.

On April 22, 2020, the New York Times reported that Canada Goose would stop buying fur from trappers starting in 2022. It would instead use reclaimed fur, which the company describes as fur that “already exists in its supply chain and the marketplace.”  As part of its plan, Canada Goose said it would buy back the fur trim from its customers’ coats and recycle it.  In a public statement, the company said that its decision was made to reduce the company’s carbon footprint, not in response to the demands of PETA and other animal rights groups.

In April 2020, the New York Times reported that Canada Goose would stop selling “new” fur in 2020.

The announcement, which was met with skepticism and confusion by the animal rights community, did not stop the protests at Canada Goose. After the initial pandemic lockdown in NYC, grass roots animal rights groups resumed protesting at the store.  In October 2020, the Coaltion to Abolish the Fur Trade (CAFT) began protesting at Saks Fifth Avenue over its refusal to stop selling Canada Goose and other other fashion labels that use real animal fur.

Animal rights activists with PETA protest at the Canada Goose store in NYC

“Hundreds of major retailers, including Paragon Sports and KITH in NYC,  have announced that they would stop selling fur,” said Rachel Levy, an organizer of the Week of Action Protests. “Canada Goose, however, has stated that it will continue to sell it. In 2021, when so many fashionable, functional alternatives exist, no clothing manufacturer should be using real fur.”

Animal rights activists with PETA and the Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade (CAFT) stage an anti-fur protest at Saks Fifth Avenue

PETA stops traffic in front of Saks Fifth Ave. as part of an anti-fur protest targeting the store.


Animal Rights Groups Call for New Leadership at HSUS’s Project Chimps

January 25, 2021 by 16 comments


The News

Multiple animal advocacy groups are calling on the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to replace the current leader of its chimpanzee sanctuary with an Executive Director who has chimpanzee experience (petition). The sanctuary, Project Chimps, was thrust into the national spotlight in May, 2020, when 22 employees and volunteers sent a letter to the Board of Directors to sound the alarm about poor veterinary care, overcrowding, a lack of sufficient enrichment and infrequent access to the outdoors.  The death of Alex, a chimpanzee whose symptoms were ignored by Project Chimps leadership, has created an added sense of urgency around this demand.

“While Project Chimps has made some cosmetic changes as a result of increased public scrutiny and primatologist Steve Ross’s blistering critique of its welfare management programs, the organization’s leadership continues  needlessly compromise the health and wellbeing of the chimpanzees,” said Crystal Alba, a whistleblower who the organization sued in 2020. “Until it is managed by someone who has chimpanzee experience and who prioritizes animal welfare, Project Chimps will continue to fail the chimpanzees in its care.”

In January, 2020, HSUS conducted an internal investigation of its sanctuary after receiving complaints about animal mistreatment by employees. In her report, Katie Conlee, HSUS’s  Vice President of Animal Research Issues, wrote, “the root causes of various problems appear to be inadequate management.”

The Humane Society’s internal investigation of Project Chimps revealed that “the root causes of various problems appear to be inadequate management.”

An inspection conducted by an external expert in October and November also exposed deficiencies in the organization’s leadership. Dr. Steve Ross, a renowned primatologist, gave Project Chimps a D grade (67%) on its welfare management programs as part of his highly anticipated assessment of the sanctuary. Welfare management programs are the responsibility of the organization’s leadership.

Dr. Steve Ross, a renowned primatologist, gave Project Chimps a D grade on its welfare management programs, which are the responsibility of the organization’s Executive Director

In 2020, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) took the unusual step of issuing public statements calling for reform at Project Chimps, though neither made specific recommendations regarding the organization’s leadership.

Animal rights groups, including The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), have called on HSUS to improve animal welfare at Project Chimps

At Project Chimps, the 78 chimpanzees have access to an outdoor habitat for approximately 10 hours per week. For the remainder of the time, they are held in concrete enclosures. Local and national animal advocacy groups are calling on Project Chimps to create additional habitats so that the chimps have daily access to the outdoors.

Roxy and Lindsey, two of the 78 chimpanzees at HSUS’s Project Chimps facility in Georgia

 

 


Cockfighters Attack SHARK Investigators, Sending Them to the Hospital with Severe Injuries

January 3, 2021 by 22 comments


The News

On Sunday morning, January 3rd, two investigators from the animal rights group SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) investigated a suspected illegal cockfighting operation in rural Lawrence County, OH. They were quickly able to confirm that the location was an active cockfighting pit.

Undercover investigators with the animal rights group SHARK identified an illegal cockfighting operation in Ohio

Soon after they arrived, SHARK President Steve Hindi was violently attacked, suffering multiple head and chest injuries. Another SHARK investigator, who was in a vehicle, was chased by cockfighters who hit his car multiple times and drove him off the road and into a ditch. He survived the attack.

Steve Hindi, founder of the animal rights group SHARK, was attacked by cockfighters on January 3rd, 2020

“These are serious crimes, and SHARK will be aggressively pursuing justice against these violent and disgusting cockfighters,” said SHARK investigator Stu Chaifetz. “We will have much more about this in the near future, but the cockfighters need to know that SHARK will never stop exposing them and their vile cruelty.”

Cockfighters in Ohio ran a SHARK investigator off the road, assaulted him and stole his video equipment

SHARK uses high tech video equipment to document many blood sports, including rodeos, pigeon shoots and cockfighting. During cockfights, which are illegal in all 50 states, roosters who are trained to kill fight each other wearing sharp blades on their legs.

In recent years, SHARK has used drones to film cockfights and farmers who are suspected of breeding roosters for cockfights. In 2019, the group announced a nationwide campaign called Crush Cockfighting to increase exposure of the bloodsport and to draw attention to the law enforcement officials who enable the illegal events.

Please call or write today to report suspected cockfighting operations. You can remain anonymous. tips@sharkonline.org or 630-385-0244.


Neighbors Lash Out During Animal Rights Protest Against HSUS

December 21, 2020 by 7 comments


The News

Neighbors lashed out as animal rights activists in NYC staged a third protest at the Upper East Side home of Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) board member Sharon Lee Patrick over her ongoing refusal to address the poor welfare conditions at Project Chimps, an HSUS chimpanzee sanctuary in Georgia. The protest comes after Dr. Steve Ross, a renowned primatologist, gave Project Chimps a D grade (67%) on its welfare management programs as part of a highly anticipated assessment of the sanctuary that he conducted in October and November.

In June, Project Chimps was thrust into the national spotlight when it sued two whistleblowers who came forward with extensive evidence of animal mistreatment. The lawsuit triggered animal rights activists, who rely on whistleblowing as a tool to expose animal abuse, to protest several members of HSUS’s Board of Directors, including Sharon Lee Patrick in New York; Brad Jakeman in Sag Harbor; Steven White in Los Angeles; and Susan Atherton in San Francisco.

In May, 2020, 22 Project Chimps employees and volunteers sent a letter to the board to voice their concerns about animal welfare conditions at the sanctuary, including poor veterinary care, overcrowding, rushed chimpanzee introductions and a lack of sufficient enrichment. Among the most contentious issues raised in the letter is infrequent access to the outdoors. According to the whistleblowers, the 78 chimpanzees at Project Chimps have access to the outdoor habitat for an average of just 10 hours a week. They spend the rest of the time in concrete enclosures. This deficiency triggered the legal advocacy group Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) to issue a public statement calling on HSUS and Project Chimps to provide the chimpanzees with daily access to an outdoor habitat. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has also spoken out publicly on behalf of the chimpanzees.

Animal rights activists are demanding that the Humane Society of the United States transform Project Chimps from a “warehouse” into the sanctuary that they claim it is

In October, 2020, the animal rights groups Progress For Science, Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) and TheirTurn sent letters to three celebrities who serve as members of the board of Project Chimps asking them to intervene on behalf of the chimpanzees.  Actresses Amber Nash and Judy Greer and musician Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day neither responded to nor acknowledged the letters.

In July, Project Chimps dismissed the lawsuit against the whistleblowers, but activists have vowed to continue protesting HSUS until the organization installs leaders at Project Chimps who have chimpanzee experience; who command the respect of their staff and peers in the primate sanctuary community; and who instinctively prioritize the welfare of the animals. Activists are also demanding that Project Chimps add two board members with captive chimpanzee experience.

Animal rights groups, including The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), have called on HSUS to improve animal welfare at Project Chimps