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.”
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.
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.
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.