On May 1st, dozens of conservationists and animal rights activists staged a rally in Times Square to help members of the public connect the dots between eating animals and pandemics. Their message was simple: “Eating Animals Causes Pandemics.” The New York City rally was one of approximately 60 that took place in 20 countries around the world in support of International Pandemic Outreach Day.
The Eating Animals Causes Pandemics campaign is a collaboration among animal rights, environmental, conservation and religious organizations. It emerged as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19, which is believed to have jumped to humans in a live animal market in China. Like many of the pandemics that preceded it, including the catastrophic Spanish Flu of 1918, COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease — one that is transmitted to humans from a non-human animal.
On International Pandemic Outreach Day, advocates in New York City spoke to hundreds of pedestrians whose attention they captured with their hazmat suits and posters. Most were not aware that outbreaks of avian flu, swine flu and a human version of mad cow disease are caused by our consumption of chickens, pigs and cows.
Factory farms are a breeding ground for infectious diseases, which could easily spread among the animals and, if zoonotic, to humans
The COVID-19 pandemic shined a global spotlight on the infectious disease risks associated with live animal markets, but zoonotic diseases can – and do – emerge in factory farms, slaughterhouses and any other setting where animals are intensively confined and/or slaughtered for human consumption. Dr. Michael Gregor, the author of Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching (2016) has said, “If you actually want to create pandemics, then build factory farms.”
Conservationists and animal rights activists staged a rally in Times Square to raise awareness about the connection between eating animals and pandemics
In early 2020, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) asked the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) to investigate detailed allegations of animal mistreatment at Project Chimps, a Humane Society (HSUS) sanctuary in Georgia that is home to 77 chimpanzees. Whistleblowers working at the sanctuary had contacted PETA after Project Chimps leadership dismissed their animal welfare and safety concerns, including the absence of skilled veterinary care, poor safety protocols, substandard facilities and infrequent access to the outdoor yards. They alleged that these and other conditions do not meet GFAS’s standards for accreditation.
Click image to see GFAS standards for great ape sanctuaries
In response to PETA’s complaint, GFAS conducted an inspection at Project Chimps in February 2020. Instead of showing up unannounced, the inspectors scheduled their visit in advance and spent just one day at the sanctuary. While on site, they did not review the medical records of the chimpanzees, many of whom had serious underlying conditions that were not being monitored or treated.
Despite requests from advocates and other stakeholders, GFAS refused to release the highly-anticipated inspection report. The only information made available to the public was a list of seven recommendations and a commitment by Project Chimps to fulfill them by August 1, 2020.
GFAS’ perfunctory inspection (reminiscent of the USDA inspections that HSUS has criticized for years), the decision to uphold Project Chimps’s accreditation and the lack of transparency around the report beg many questions:
If Project Chimps does not meet several of the standards set by GFAS for great ape sanctuaries, then why does GFAS accredit it?
If sanctuaries are going to leverage their GFAS accreditation for fundraising and promotional purposes, then shouldn’t donors, advocates, scientists and other stakeholders have access to GFAS’s inspection reports?
Why should the public give credence to the “GFAS-accredited” claim made by any sanctuary when at least one of the accredited sanctuaries falls far short of meeting GFAS’s standards?
If GFAS’s recommendations were implemented by August 2020 (which would suggest that Project Chimps was in compliance with GFAS standards), then how does GFAS explain the D grade that primatologist Steve Ross gave Project Chimps on its welfare management programs three months later?
In March 2021, GFAS conducted another inspection at Project Chimps after two chimpanzees died. Again, it has not released the report.
GFAS Standards for Accreditation
GFAS sets specific standards that great ape sanctuaries must meet in order to receive its coveted accreditation. Project Chimps doesn’t meet many of these standards. Two whistleblowers who worked at the sanctuary documented 21 examples on HelpTheChimps.org, a website they created after Project Chimps and HSUS repeatedly dismissed their pleas for reform.
Whistleblowers documented 21 examples of how Project Chimps failed to meet GFAS standards for great ape sanctuaries. Click the illustration to see the examples and the specific GFAS standards they violate.
Following are two examples:
Veterinary Care: According to GFAS, a great ape sanctuary must have “a written veterinary medical program, including long term preventative medical protocols and disease surveillance and containment procedures, that is developed and carried out under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian who has training or experience in providing medical care for the ape and other species housed at the sanctuary, and who is aware of any specific issues with the health of the apes at the sanctuary.”
Project Chimps doesn’t meet any of these criteria. From early 2017 to mid-2020, the sanctuary employed a veterinarian who had no primate experience and who put no protocols in place to monitor underlying conditions. In addition, he routinely disregarded serious and, in some cases, life-threatening symptoms. Project Chimps replaced this veterinarian in August 2020, but he is back at the helm because the new veterinarian left the organization in March 2021.
Project Chimps does not meet GFAS standards for veterinary care at a great ape sanctuary
Access to the Outdoors: At GFAS-accredited sanctuaries, “great apes are provided sufficient opportunity and space to move about freely and rapidly, and to exercise choice in location so as to reduce stress and maintain good physical condition. Great apes are able to enjoy lives that are as close as possible to that of their wild counterparts.”
Project Chimps does not meet these criteria. The chimpanzees have access to an outdoor yard once every three days for a few hours, weather permitting. For the rest of the time, they are held in concrete rooms. In a letter to GFAS, the director of another primate sanctuary wrote, “Clearly there are too many chimpanzees at Project Chimps if their time outdoors is limited and has to be shared. No chimpanzee should be expected to live without a choice of habitat.”
Conditions at Project Chimps fall short of the standards set by GFAS for great ape sanctuaries
The whistleblowers assert that the absence of expert veterinary care and the lack of daily access to the outdoors should, in and of themselves, compel GFAS to rescind Project Chimps’s accreditation. Instead, GFAS ignores its own standards. Why?
GFAS’s Conflict of Interest
GFAS has a conflict of interest that compromises its ability to objectively assess Project Chimps, much less rescind its accreditation for failing to meet GFAS standards. This conflict of interest spans the 14 years since GFAS was founded. In fact, it was HSUS that registered the GFAS website in 2007.
HSUS owns the domain name for GFAS, which suggests an administrative relationship between the organizations.
Since 2007, many people who have worked at GFAS or served on its board have been affiliated with HSUS. One of the GFAS founders was the Chief Operating Officer of HSUS, and another served as treasurer of a political action committee founded by HSUS. Today, these individuals serve on GFAS’s Board of Directors. A Senior Vice President at HSUS also serves on the board, and an HSUS employee works at GFAS. In addition, one of the GFAS employees who inspected Project Chimps in 2020 is a former HSUS employee.
HSUS also provides financial support to GFAS, according to its 2018 and 2019 annual reports.
How can GFAS objectively assess a sanctuary that is operated by an organization that funds it?
If GFAS is comprised of people affiliated with HSUS; is partially funded by HSUS; and has administrative ties to HSUS, then how can it make unbiased assessments of an HSUS sanctuary?
This conflict of interest explains why GFAS continues to accredit Project Chimps despite the fact that it fails to meet many of its standards for great ape sanctuaries.
Roxy, Linsdsey and the 75 other chimpanzees at Project Chimps have access to the outdoor yards for a few hours every third day. For the rest of the time, they are held in concrete enclosures
On a final note, the whistleblowers, grass roots activists and national organizations advocating on behalf of the chimpanzees at Project Chimps know that running a great ape sanctuary is expensive, laborious and uniquely challenging. No one is asking for perfection, but HSUS does have the resources to bring Project Chimps up to GFAS standards. It is choosing not to.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Hire a veterinarian and vet tech who have chimpanzee expertise.
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.
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.
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