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

October 29, 2020 by 3 comments


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 HelpTheChimps.org. 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 TheirTurn.net 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


Animal Rights Activists Protest Humane Society Board Member Sharon Lee Patrick over Animal Cruelty at Project Chimps

October 23, 2020 by 6 comments


The News

Over 30 animal rights activists staged a protest at the New York City home of Sharon Lee Patrick, a member of the Board of Directors of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), over the organization’s refusal to improve the living conditions of the 78 chimpanzees in their care at Project Chimps, HSUS’s sanctuary in Georgia.  At Project Chimps, the animals are held in concrete rooms for all but 10 hours a week.

“Project Chimps is supposed to be a sanctuary, not a warehouse,” said Edita Birnkrant, the Executive Director of the animal rights group NYCLASS and co-organizer of the protest. “The Humane Society needs to build additional outdoor habitats so that the chimps are moving around freely in the fresh air instead of pulling out their hair in concrete prison cells.”

In May, 2020, 22 former Project Chimps employees and volunteers sent a letter to Project Chimps board director Bruce Wagman to voice their concerns about poor veterinary care, infrequent access to the outdoors, overcrowding, rushed chimpanzee introductions, a lack of sufficient enrichment and other forms of neglect and deprivation. Project Chimps dismissed their concerns in a three sentence response and described two of the former employees as “disgruntled” in a lawsuit that it filed against them after they posted evidence of the abuse on HelpTheChimps.org.

Left: Eddie, who was injured during a fight due to overcrowding (photo taken in Sept., 2019). Right: Panielle, who is underweight in this photo due to neglected intestinal parasites (Photo taken in late 2019).

The protest comes less than a week after the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) issued a public statement demanding that HSUS and Project Chimps provide the chimpanzees with daily access to the outdoors. NhRP, animal rights organization that seeks to upgrade the legal status of animals, took the unusual step of speaking out publicly about the welfare conditions at Project Chimps after HSUS dismissed its concerns about Hercules and Leo, chimpanzees who ended up at Project Chimps after NhRP liberated them from a laboratory in New York.

The Nonhuman Rights Project issued a public statement demanding that Project Chimps provide its clients, Hercules and Leo, with daily access to the outdoors. Full statement.

After being liberated from a lab in New York, Hercules and Leo were relocated to HSUS’s Project Chimps, which describes itself as a sanctuary

NhRP is not the first animal rights organization to publicly criticize HSUS over the mistreatment of animals at Project Chimps. On July 31st, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals issued its own statement after reviewing the evidence.

On July 31, 2020, PETA issued a public statement regarding the welfare conditions at Project Chimps

On July 9th, National Geographic published an in depth, investigative story about the animal cruelty allegations. While it includes statements from both sides, the story paints a grim and disturbing picture of animal welfare that corroborates the allegations of the whistleblowers.

National Geographic investigative story about animal mistreatment at HSUS’s chimpanzee sanctuary, Project Chimps

Sharon Lee Patrick is the fourth HSUS board member targeted with protests. Since July, 2020, animal rights activists have protested at the Santa Monica (CA) home of Steven White; at the Sag Harbor (NY) clothing store owned by Brad Jakeman; and the San Francisco home of Susan Atherton, the co-chair of the board.

During a protest at the NYC home of HSUS board member Sharon Lee Patrick, activists distributed hundreds of flyers to her neighbors

Grass roots animal rights groups around the country, including Stop Animal Exploitation Now and Progress for Science, say they will continue to hold HSUS board members accountable until they acknowledge the welfare violations at Project Chimps and commit to addressing them. They are posting updates on the campaign and calls to action on the Facebook pages Do The Right Thing and Protesting HSUS Over Cruelty at Project Chimps

TheirTurn is documenting the grass roots campaign to hold HSUS board members accountable for mistreating the chimpanzees in their care at Project Chimps


COVID Cases Surge in Brooklyn’s Hasidic Hot Spots After Large, Mask-free Kaporos Events; Mayor and DOH Ignored Warnings

October 10, 2020 by 34 comments


The News

Weeks before the City shut down Brooklyn’s Hasidic neighborhoods due to a surge in COVID cases, animal rights and public health advocates flooded city officials and journalists with letters warning them of the spike if Mayor and Dept. of Health allowed large, crowded, semi-enclosed, mask-free Kaporos slaughter events to take place. They ignored the warnings, and the number of COVID cases jumped dramatically in these neighborhoods in the weeks that followed. In the extensive media coverage about the surge, neither elected officials nor journalists are addressing the fact that it was caused, at least in part, by the Kaporos wet markets.

Advocates warned the governor, mayor, city health officials and media that Kaporos events in COVID hot spots would lead to a surge in cases

The surge of COVID cases left New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, staunch allies of the Hasidic community, with no choice but to designate some of their neighborhoods as “red zones” and publicly state they were instituting partial shut downs. In spite of the fact that COVID safety guidelines had not been enforced in their communities before, they took to the streets of Borough Park, Brooklyn, to protest. Many of the protesters burned their masks in a show of defiance.

“The Hasidim will not change their behavior due to the pandemic unless they want to because, in New York, their actions don’t have consequences,” said Donny Moss of TheirTurn.net, an animal rights news magazine that documents Kaporos events each year. “Because of their voting power, elected officials move mountains to curry favor with them, even if that means helping them break the law and jeopardize the public health.”

Kaporos, a ritual animal sacrifice that takes place in the week leading up to Yom Kippur, is a perfect example. Each year before Yom Kippur, the Hasidim in Brooklyn erect approximately 30 makeshift slaughterhouses without permits on public streets and kill over 100,000 chickens (a conservative estimate) in violation of 15 city and state health and cruelty laws. Invariably, Kaporos practitioners and advocates who rescue chickens contract e. Coli and campylobacter. Nevertheless, the city provides the Hasidic community with police officers, floodlights, barricades and traffic cones which are used to bleed the animals out onto the streets.

In 2020, the animal rights community thought that Kaporos would be canceled for two reasons. First, elected officials and health authorities knew in advance that social distancing and mask wearing guidelines would not be practiced during Kaporos events, which, incidentally, would be taking place in areas already designated as Kaporos hot spots. Second, the Kaporos sites are wet markets where tens of thousands of customers physically handle the live animals before they are slaughtered. In light of the fact that COVID19 is a zoonotic disease that is widely believed to have jumped from animal to human in a wet market, the advocacy community thought that the City would cancel Kaporos to prevent the potential outbreak of another zoonotic disease.

In the weeks leading up to Yom Kippur, the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos plastered hundreds of posters throughout NYC sounding the alarm about the health risks posed by Kaporos.

To the dismay of the advocates, the COVID pandemic, the risk of another zoonotic disease outbreak, and the health and cruelty violations didn’t compel the City to stop Kaporos from happening.

“One day, however, the victims of Kaporos will fight back in the only way they can – by unleashing a zoonotic disease on us that will rapidly spread through the Hasidic communities and lead to another global pandemic,” said Moss.

Before Yom Kippur, hundreds of thousands of Hasidim in the NYC tri-state area practice Kaporos, a ritual animal sacrifice (photo: Unparalleled Suffering Photography)

Animal rights and public health advocates have pledged to continue to educate the public about the health and cruelty violations and to hold past and present NYC health officials like Drs. Mary Bassett, Demetre Daskalakis, Oxiris Barbot and Dave Chokshi accountable for their decision to prioritize politics ahead of public health.


Progress For Science Protests HSUS Over Animal Mistreatment at Project Chimps

September 30, 2020 by 7 comments


The News

Over 20 activists with Progress For Science, a Los Angeles-based animal rights group, staged a protest at the Santa Monica home of Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) board member Steven White over the mistreatment of animals at Project Chimps, HSUS’s chimpanzee sanctuary in Georgia.

White and his colleagues on the boards of HSUS and Project Chimps have refused to acknowledge and rectify animal welfare issues raised by 22 former sanctuary employees and volunteers who sent a letter to Project Chimps board to voice their concerns about poor veterinary care, infrequent access to the outdoors (10 hours/week), overcrowding, rushed chimpanzee introductions, a lack of sufficient enrichment in their concrete enclosures and other forms of neglect and deprivation. Two of these individuals, Crystal Alba and Lindsay Vanderhoogt, posted photos, videos and reports documenting the abuse on HelpTheChimps.org after they attempted to effect change from within Project Chimps.

Animal rights activists are demanding that HSUS’s Project Chimps provide the animals in their care with daily access to the outdoors

“The chimps are living in woefully substandard conditions at Project Chimps after being subjected to a lifetime of laboratory experiments,” said Cory Mac, an organizer with Progress For Science. “Instead of attempting to silence credible whistleblowers, Steven White and his colleagues at HSUS should be focused on improving animal care and providing the chimps with a humane retirement.”  In August, Project Chimps dropped a federal lawsuit it filed against Alba and Vanderhoogt, who continue to speak out on behalf of the chimps.

Animal rights activists with Progress for Science protest the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) over the mistreatment of animals at its Project Chimps sanctuary in Georgia

On July 9th, National Geographic published an in depth, investigative story about the animal cruelty allegations and the lawsuit against the whistleblowers. While it includes statements from both sides, the story paints a grim and disturbing picture of animal welfare that corroborates the allegations of the whistleblowers.

National Georgraphic investigative story about animal mistreatment at HSUS’s chimpanzee sanctuary, Project Chimps

Steven White is the third HSUS board member to be targeted with protests. In San Francisco, primatologist Bob Ingersoll and local activists protested at the Nob Hill home of Susan Atherton, the co-chair of HSUS’s Board of Directors. In New York, animal rights activists with TheirTurn staged two protests at an upscale clothing store owned by HSUS board member Brad Jakeman.

Animal rights activists demand the Steven White and his colleagues on HSUS’s Board of Directors improve animal welfare at Project Chimps

Animal rights activists vow to continue holding HSUS’s board members accountable until they improve the welfare standards at Project Chimps. Among their demands are providing the chimps with daily access to the outdoors; not taking in additional chimps until they can be accommodated humanely and hiring an Executive Director with chimpanzee experience.

Board members of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) have been targeted with protests animal rights activists in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York who are demanding improved welfare conditions at its Project Chimps sanctuary in Georgia

In its public statements, HSUS asserts that third party inspections have exonerated Project Chimps of the animal cruelty allegations. However, the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS), a sanctuary accrediting organization, made several animal welfare recommendations after conducting an investigation, in spite of its close financial ties to HSUS. Another inspection that HSUS references in an effort to discredit the welfare allegations was conducted by a veterinarian who HSUS paid $20,000 in “consulting” fees, in spite of the fact that she lives in a different state.

The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) made some of the same animal welfare recommendations as the whistleblowers

Among the protesters at Steven White’s home was Carole Raphaelle Davis, a Hollywood actress who recently starred in Madam Secretary. During her Facebook livestream, Davis encapsulated the feelings of many of the activists who participated ‘The Humane Society is the largest animal welfare organization in the country and is sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars; it can easily afford to give these animals the life they deserve, but they don’t and that’s why we won’t back down until they fix this wrong. The mistreatment of these chimps in their care is just not right. It’s not fair.”


Kaporos, Largest Live Animal Wet Market in the United States, Opens Ahead of Yom Kippur

September 19, 2020 by 21 comments


The News

In the days leading up to Yom Kippur, tens of thousands of Hasidim in Brooklyn will purchase and physically handle live chickens in a wet market setting. Wearing little to no PPE, they will swing the chickens around their heads as part of an annual atonement ritual called Kaporos. The chickens will be killed in approximately 30 makeshift slaughterhouses erected without permits on public streets in residential neighborhoods in violation of eight New York City health codes. The body parts, blood and feces of thousands of animals will contaminate the streets of South Williamsburg, Crown Heights and Borough Park for several days.

Kaporos is, in effect, the largest live animal wet market in the country and the only one in which the customers handle the animals before the animals are killed. Many of the animals have compromised immune systems and show signs of respiratory disease. The chickens make each other sick, and they also infect some of the people who handle them with e. Coli and campylobacter. If the viruses that these animals carry commingle and mutate into a more dangerous strain that could be spread among humans, then these Kaporos wet markets could be the source of the another zoonotic disease outbreak. According to a toxicologist who studied fecal and blood samples taken during Kaporos, the ritual “constitutes a dangerous condition” and “poses a significant public health hazard.”

During Kaporos, tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews purchase and physically handle live animals, without PPE, putting themselves and the public at risk of zoonotic disease

In addition to putting all of us at risk of another zoonotic disease pandemic, Kaporos, which attracts hordes of people in small areas, could be a COVID “super spreader” event because Hasidic communities have been observed not wearing masks or engaging in social distancing.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio; his Health Commissioner, Dr. Dave Chokshi; and his Deputy Commissioner of Disease Control, Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, allow this mass ritual slaughter to take place, in spite of the health code violations and risks to public health, because NYC’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities represent a powerful voting bloc that can make or break elections in NYC and NY State. In fact, taxpayers help to underwrite the cost because the NYPD provides barricades, floodlights and a large police presence at many of the Kaporos sites. Given the risks and the disruption and death we have already endured already with pandemic, how can the Mayor and his health deputies allow Kaporos to take place?

The Kaporos wet market contaminates the public streets and sidewalks of several NYC neighborhoods with the blood, feces and body parts of thousands of animals killed in pop up slaughterhouses erected without permits in violation of 8 NYC health laws

During Kaporos, some of the live and dead chickens are discarded onto the streets. Rescuers bring the survivors who they find to veterinarians and sanctuaries to live out their lives in peace

For the past several years, animal rights and public health advocates have pled with Mayor de Blasio and his revolving door of health commissioners (Dr. Mary Bassett, Dr. Oxiris Barbot and now Dr. Dave Chokshi) to shut down Kaporos, given the health code violations and the risks to the public health. Both in court and in the media, city attorneys and spokespeople for the NYC Department of Health have defended Kaporos and argued that the City has discretion over which laws to enforce. Throughout the month of September, the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos plastered 300 posters around New York City to sound the alarm about Kaporos.

The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos, a project of United Poultry Concerns, plastered billboards around NYC to educate the public about the risk to public health created by Kaporos