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.
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.