When chimpanzee rescuer Jenny Desmond heard that exotic pet traffickers were attempting to sell a baby in Monrovia (the capital of Liberia), she swung into action, working with local wildlife authorities to both rescue the chimp and capture the perpetrator. Desmond, who runs Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection (LCRP) with her husband Jim, set up a sting operation to lure the trafficker onto her property; document him asking for money; and have him arrested by the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), the government agency that enforces Liberia’s wildlife laws. Desmond captured the sting on camera:
The trafficker, who appeared to be in his 20s, told Ms. Desmond and the FDA official that he purchased the chimp from hunters. In Liberia, as in other African countries with a wild chimpanzee population, poachers kill adult chimps for bushmeat and sell their babies as exotic pets.
Jenny Desmond of Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection comforts Ella, a baby chimp who is clinging on to the exotic pet trafficker who was attempting to sell her.
Before the Desmonds created a chimpanzee sanctuary, Liberian officials turned a blind eye to the sale of baby chimps because they didn’t have a place to bring them following a confiscation. The lack of enforcement has, until now, enabled the exotic pet trade to flourish. While the Desmonds continue to receive confiscated chimps, they anticipate that the numbers will dwindle over time as poachers and traffickers come to the realization that authorities are confiscating animals and prosecuting the crimes.
Two of the approximately 20 chimps rescued by Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection after being held captive
Since arriving in Liberia in 2015, the Desmonds have rescued over 20 chimps, all of whom are being housed in a makeshift sanctuary. In December, 2017, they leased a 100 acre tract of forested land on the local river where they plan to build a proper sanctuary from the ground up. The sanctuary, LCRP, will have enclosed areas in the forest so that the chimps can live in a semi-wild environment by day; night time housing for the younger chimps; a clinic; a commissary for food preparation; isolation areas for new arrivals to prevent the spread of illnesses; housing for caregivers and volunteers; public areas for education and conservation programs; and administrative offices.
After being confiscated by wildlife authorities, Ella, a victim of the exotic pet trade whose mother was killed by poachers, finds peace and happiness at Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection (LCRP)
When Jenny and Jim Desmond moved to Liberia in 2015 to oversee the care of 66 chimpanzees who had been abandoned by the New York Blood Center, forestry authorities brought them 19 young chimpanzees in need of parents and a home. Unlike the blood center chimps, who were fully grown and living somewhat independently, the majority of these chimps were newly orphaned by poachers who killed their mothers for bushmeat. Like human babies, these chimpanzees need around-the-clock care.
In order to provide adequate care for the orphans, the Desmonds hired a team of caregivers from the local village to serve as their surrogate mothers. But chimpanzee babies grow up quickly, and, by two or three years old, they have to be transitioned into a group of other chimps. In addition, they need far more space — space that they don’t have in the small home they inhabit in a densely populated village two hours outside of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city.
LCRP rescued these captive chimps whose families were killed for bushmeat.
Now, the Desmonds are tasked with the responsibility of moving all 19 chimps, including two adults, and their human caregivers into a forested area where they will build a sanctuary from the ground up. The sanctuary will have enclosed areas in the forest so that the chimps can live in a semi-wild environment by day; night time housing for the younger chimps; a clinic; a commissary for food preparation; isolation areas for new arrivals to prevent the spread of illnesses; housing for caregivers and volunteers; public areas for education and conservation programs; and administrative offices.
They’ve already created an entity, Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection (LCRP), and leased a large tract of forested land on the Farmington River, just a few miles away from the islands where the blood center chimps are living. Now they need to raise funds to build.
LCRP’s Jim Desmond, one of two veterinarians in Liberia, performs minor surgery in a makeshift operating room (photo: Jenny Desmond)
The sanctuary has a second and equally important mission – to protect wild chimpanzees in their natural habitat. If government authorities have a place to bring chimpanzees who they confiscate from poachers, then poachers will have less of an incentive to capture baby chimps in order to sell them as pets. In the absence of a sanctuary, the authorities turn a blind eye to the trade in baby chimps because they have no place to bring them. Sanctuaries therefore play a critical role in the conservation of the species.
Jenny and Jim Desmond arrived in Liberia in 2015 with a big job to do – overseeing the care of the 66 chimpanzees abandoned on six islands by the New York Blood Center. Little did they know that, within weeks of their arrival, the government would be adding to their workload by bringing them orphaned baby chimpanzees who needed sanctuary.
Liberia has an estimated 7,000 wild chimpanzees remaining in its forests. The fact that these great apes are endangered doesn’t stop poachers from illegally hunting them for their meat. The baby chimps, orphaned when their mothers are killed for their meat, are then sold as exotic pets.
Chimps rescued from the illegal exotic pet trade in Liberia are brought to Jenny and Jim Desmond with Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection (LCRP)
Before the Desmonds arrived in Liberia, the government turned a blind eye to the illegal chimp trade because authorities had no place to bring chimps who they could have confiscated from their captors or new “owners.” Because the Desmonds have experience rescuing and rehabilitating great apes, authorities began to bring them babies – some just weeks old.
Baby chimps rescued by LCRP are raised by surrogate mothers until they are old enough to be integrated with a group of juveniles who no longer need around-the-clock attention.
The Desmond’s property in Liberia, which is owned by the government and is adjacent to a busy laboratory, is not ideal for raising orphaned chimps. Jenny and Jim are therefore now tasked with looking for land in a nearby forest to build a proper sanctuary with all of the facilities needed to care for the chimps, including an infirmary, overnight housing for the babies, a kitchen, offices and housing for caregivers and volunteers. The Desmonds have already created an entity, Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection (LCRP). Now, they need to raise money in order to build the sanctuary.
A rescued chimp takes the wheel from Jim Desmond on the way home from “chimp school” at LCRP’s temporary location
Jenny Desmond is quick to point out that providing sanctuary for rescued chimps is only part of their mission. One of their biggest priorities is using the sanctuary as a platform to educate the public about the importance of conserving chimpanzees in their natural habitat. “We’ll know that our efforts are having an impact when we stop receiving chimps,” said Desmond. “Our ultimate goal is to not need to exist at all.”
Please follow Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection (LCR) on Facebook and Twitter.
After being targeted by animal rights activists for two years over its decision to abandon 66 chimpanzees on islands in Liberia, the New York Blood Center (NYBC) caved in to pressure, making a $6 million contribution toward their lifelong care. The decision represents a major victory not only for the chimps but also for animal protection advocates in NYC and around the world who participated in online actions, staged protests and signed Care2 petitions. Here’s a short video from what turned out to be the final protest:
“When I realized that NYBC was prepared to let their chimps die of starvation and thirst on deserted islands after holding them captive in cages for 30 years and conducting hundreds of painful experiments on them, I decided to rally caring people around the world to demand accountability and take action,” said Wally Baldwin, who serves of the Board of the Center for Great Apes and runs the Facebook page, NYBC: Do The Right Thing. “I am gratified that our efforts paid off.”
Chimps abandoned by the New York Blood Center on islands in Liberia await their daily delivery of food and water.
When the New York Times reported in May, 2015, that NYBC cut off all funding for the 66 remaining survivors of its research experiments and for the Liberians who took care of them, grass roots activists in NYC launched a protest campaign that targeted not only NYBC but also its top three corporate partners, IBM, MetLife, and Citigroup. After meeting with the activists and/or being subjected to protests, all three companies issued public statements severing ties with NYBC, and Citigroup made an unsolicited contribution of $50,000 toward the care of the chimps.
“Our ability to compel multinational corporations to take the bold and unusual step of speaking out publicly against an organization with which they had a decades-long relationship demonstrates that grass roots advocacy can effect meaningful change,” said Donny Moss, one of the campaign organizers.
Public statements about the abandoned chimps posted by IBM, Citigroup and MetLife
Other significant milestones in the campaign were the resignations of two of the four NYBC board members targeted by the activists, Owen Garrick, who is based in Oakland, California, and Laurie Glimcher, who also quit her job as Dean of Cornell Medicine and moved to Boston after months of being targeted with protests.
From left to right: Michael Hodin, Laurie Glimcher and Chairman Howard Milstein were three of the four NYBC board members targeted by activists in NYC; Ponso is the sole survivor of a colony of 20 chimps abandoned by the NY Blood Center in the Ivory Coast. Advocates are working with authorities to move him across the border into Liberia so he is not alone and can receive optimal care.
The $6 million contributed by NYBC is expected to cover half of the cost of the lifelong care of the chimps. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which stepped in to take care of the chimps when NYBC abandoned them, will pay for the other half using contributions to its GoFundMe Campaign, which has raised $363,000 since 2015. For more details about the agreement between HSUS and NYBC, please see this press release issued by HSUS.
In August, 2015, HSUS hired Jenny and Jim Desmond, an American couple with experience in great ape rescue, to oversee the care of the chimps. With funds donated to HSUS, the Desmonds were able to not only hire back almost all of the Liberians who lost their jobs when NYBC cut the funding but also make dramatic improvements to the care of the chimps, including daily feedings (instead of every other day); an improved diet that takes their nutritional needs into account; and birth control.
Activists stage protest inside the lobby of the New York Blood Center
In addition to taking care of the chimps, HSUS has worked to raise awareness of their plight by staging a massive protest at NYBC and making public statements in conjunction with Dr. Jane Goodall, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, primatologist Dr. Brian Hare, and actresses Kate and Rooney Mara who traveled to Liberia to visit the islands.
Thank you to all of the activists around the world who have spoken out on behalf of the abandoned chimps. Together, we did this!
In a statement posted on its website, IBM announced that it has severed all ties with the NY Blood Center on account of the organization’s decision to abandon 66 chimpanzees with no food or water on islands in Liberia. IBM joins NYBC’s other long term corporate partners, MetLife and Citigroup, in demanding accountability from the organization.
IBM severs ties with NY Blood Center over chimp abandonment
The announcement, which states that IBM has suspended its blood drives, marks the end of a 54 year relationship between IBM and NYBC.
IBM has terminated its 54 year partnership with IBM on account of the abandoned chimps
IBM donated space to the New York Blood Center for blood drives.
IBM’s decision to sever ties with the NY Blood Center marks the end of a 54 relationship.
The news comes after a protest at IBM and months of discussions with animal welfare advocates who have been working to convince NYBC’s corporate parters to demand accountability from the organization.
The Care2 petition asking IBM to demand accountability from NYBC was signed by over 163,000 people.
The NY Blood Center abandoned 66 chimps on islands with no natural food or water and cut all funding for their care. Here, the chimps await the daily delivery of food and water. (Photo: Jenny Desmond for HSUS)
After NYBC abandoned the chimps, the animals went a week with no food or water.
After conducting research experiments on approximately 500 chimpanzees for 30 years and promising to provide the survivors with lifelong care, NYBC decided to abandon the 66 surviving chimps with no food or water on islands in Liberia, leaving them to die of starvation and thirst. Using money donated by the public, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has stepped in on an emergency basis to cover the monthly costs associated with feeding the chimps.
Among the many organizations that have spoken out against the New York Blood Center are Citigroup, MetLife and the Jane Goodall Institute
Dr. Jane Goodall, one of many leaders in the animal welfare community who have spoken out against NYBC’s decision to starve their chimps, wrote the following in a letter to the organization’s CEO, Christopher Hillyer, “I find it completely shocking and unacceptable that NYBC would abandon these chimpanzees and discontinue support for even their basic needs. Your company was responsible for acquiring these chimpanzees and thus has a moral obligation to continue to care for them for the remainder of their lives.”
The NY Blood Center made a promise to provide their chimpanzees with lifelong care.
In February, TheirTurn’s Donny Moss traveled to Liberia to visit and document the abandoned chimps; the Liberians who stepped in on a voluntary basis to save their lives; and Jenny and Jim Desmond, the American couple contracted by HSUS to oversee the care of the chimps.
Please thank IBM for taking a principled stand against the New York Blood Center by retweeting this tweet.