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Animal Rights Activists Protest HSUS Board Chair Susan Atherton Over Cruelty at Project Chimps

October 29, 2020 by Leave a Comment

The News

Animal rights activists in San Francisco staged a second protest at the Nob Hill home of Susan Atherton, the co-chair of the Board of Directors of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), over her refusal to acknowledge and address the animal welfare infractions at Project Chimps, an HSUS sanctuary in Georgia. During the protest, the activists announced that they plan to return “again and again” until Atherton and her colleagues on the board of HSUS improve the living conditions and veterinary care of the 78 chimpanzees at Project Chimps.

On May 4th, 2020, 22 people who worked for or volunteered at Project Chimps sent a letter to board president Bruce Wagman to voice their concerns about poor veterinary care, overcrowding, rushed chimpanzee introductions, a lack of sufficient enrichment and infrequent access to the outdoor habitat. At Project Chimps, the residents are held in concrete enclosures for all but 10 hours a week.

Click letter to Project Chimps Board of Directors to read it in its entirety

When Project Chimps and HSUS refused to acknowledge the welfare violations outlined in the letter, two whistleblowers, Crystal Alba and Lindsay Vanderhoogt, posted extensive evidence of the mistreatment at On July 9th, National Geographic validated their allegations in an in-depth, investigative story.

At HSUS’s Project Chimps, the chimpanzee are held in concrete enclosures for all but 10 hours a week

“HSUS is the largest animal protection organization in the country with over $200 million in assets,” said Bob Ingersoll, a primatologist who organized the protest. “This organization must use the vast resources at its disposal to transform Project Chimps from a chimpanzee warehouse into a real sanctuary.”

Advocates for the chimps argue that HSUS has the resources to improve the living conditions of the chimpanzees in its care at Project Chimps

In recent months, two prominent national animal rights organizations have spoken out publicly about the welfare issues at Project Chimps. On July 31st, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) posted a statement in support of the whistleblowers, and, on October 14th, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), issued a public statement demanding that HSUS and Project Chimps provide the chimpanzees in their care with daily access to the outdoors.

After successfully liberating chimpanzees Hercules and Leo from a laboratory in NYC, attorneys with the Nonhuman Rights Project are now demanding that HSUS and Project Chimps provide them with access to the outdoors every day

In its public statement defending Project Chimps, HSUS states, “Multiple reputable parties—including a primate expert with years of experience, a renowned chimpanzee veterinarian, a sanctuary-accrediting organization and several government inspectors—have visited Project Chimps, assessed the facilities, program and animals there and have concluded that the chimpanzees are well cared for.” HSUS failed to disclose conflicts of interest. It paid the primate expert a $20,000 consulting fee, and it is a founder of the “sanctuary-accrediting organization” that conducted an inspection.

Animal rights activists protest Susan Atherton, the co-chair of the Board of Directors of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) at her home in San Francisco

On August 28th, Donny Moss of contacted the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA) to express concern about the welfare of the animals at Project Chimps. In response, NAPSA’s Programs Director Erika Fleury stated that Project Chimps “meets NAPSA’s membership standards” and that “It’s clear that you and I are of different opinions about the things you mentioned. I, and NAPSA, trust that the outcomes of the inspections by numerous accrediting/licensing/independent bodies can speak for themselves. Based on what I know of the former employees’ [whistleblowers] activities, I’m going to decline to engage anymore on this topic.”

Dr. Steve Ross, the Director of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes at Lincoln Park Zoo and an expert on chimpanzee behavior and wellbeing, is conducting an animal welfare assessment at Project Chimps. He anticipates releasing the findings of this assessment in November. 

Animal rights activists have scheduled protests at the Los Angeles home of HSUS board member Steven White on October 31st and at the Manhattan home of board member Sharon Lee Patrick on November 7th. The activists are demanding that HSUS replace the Executive Director of Project Chimps with someone with extensive chimpanzee experience; hire a veterinarian with proven expertise in primate care; build new outdoor enclosures so that the chimps have daily access to the forest; and abstain from bringing in new chimps until these outdoor enclosures are built.

Arielle on the Cedar Tree porch at HSUS’s Project Chimps, an HSUS sanctuary in Georgia

Comments via Facebook Comments

  1. ahimsa42 says:

    they are not called h$u$ for nothing. a shame of an organization which only cares about fund raising and increasing it’s already massive assets while supporting & condoning exploitation of the non-human victims it claims to want to protect. the fact that at one point there was a $1 off coupon for pig flesh (bacon) on it’s website tells anyone who actually cares about non-human animals what they are actually about.

  2. Irish says:

    I cant stand that fake organization especially when the directer/CEO pockets almost $200,000 a year and I detest their ads begging for donations and now they let primates suffer

  3. Jon Spear says:

    HSUS has had some serious leadership problems at the top (i.e., Wayne Pacelle and Paul Shapiro), for more than a decade (ref. ) Evidently, those problems have not yet been addressed.

    Thank you for holding organizations such as HSUS to high ethical standards. Large organizations must be held accountable, especially when they are taking donations under the guise of helping animals.

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