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HSUS’s Chimpanzee Debacle

April 6, 2021 by Leave a Comment


The News

In June 2020, I posted an article entitled “Why I’m Blowing the Whistle on HSUS” in order to raise awareness of the plight of chimpanzees at two sanctuaries run by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) – Project Chimps in Georgia and Second Chance Chimpanzee Refuge in Liberia. Both are plagued by substandard facilities, deficient veterinary care and unqualified management. At Project Chimps, the residents are held in concrete rooms for all but about 10 hours a week because HSUS has not created enough enclosed yards on its “236-acre wooded habitat” to be able to provide the 77 chimps with daily access to the outdoors. Instead of acknowledging and fixing these serious, systemic problems, HSUS has used its PR machine to minimize them or deny that they exist. It has also used its lawyers to silence and intimidate those who speak out.

Precious, a chimpanzee at Project Chimps

In May 2020, HSUS inadvertently shined a national spotlight on Project Chimps by suing two women who came forward with credible and extensive evidence of animal neglect. Appalled that HSUS would sue whistleblowers (an intimidation tactic typically associated with big animal ag), animal advocates around the country, including several with expertise in captive primate care, stepped in to support the whistleblowers and amplify their calls for reform at Project Chimps.

Project Chimps, an HSUS sanctuary, sued former employees Crystal Alba and Linsday Vanderhoogt after they came forward publicly with evidence of animal cruelty

Despite not having visited Project Chimps, I believed the whistleblowers – not only because of the evidence they provided, but also because I saw the same problems during my two visits to HSUS’s chimp “sanctuary” in Liberia. There, HSUS is overseeing the care of over 60 ex-lab chimpanzees who the New York Blood Center (NYBC) moved to islands on a river when they no longer needed the chimps for experiments. Despite having received a $6 million check from NYBC in 2017 and hundreds of thousands of dollars in large and small donations from the public since 2015, HSUS has not built any desperately needed infrastructure on the islands.

National Geographic published an in-depth story that corroborated their allegations.

In October 2020, The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), an organization of animal rights lawyers who represent captive chimpanzees and elephants, took the unusual step of issuing a public statement calling on HSUS to improve animal welfare at Project Chimps. NhRP was particularly distressed by the fact that Hercules and Leo, chimpanzees who they freed from a laboratory, did not have daily access to the outdoor habitat. HSUS dismissed their concerns, arguing that the concrete porches where they spend their days are outdoors.

HSUS claims that the 77 residents of Project Chimps have daily access to the outdoors, but advocates believe this is misleading because the “porches” are enclosed concrete rooms

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

On March 21st, NhRP marked the three year anniversary of Hercules’ and Leo’s arrival at Project Chimps by issuing another public statement, this time asking its global network of supporters to call on HSUS CEO Kitty Block to provide Hercules and Leo with daily access to the outdoors. NhRP and PETA, which also issued a statement, must have agonized about publicly criticizing another animal advocacy group, but, by repeatedly dismissing the concerns they raised in private, HSUS left them with no choice.

The Nonhuman Rights Project is asking its supporters to call on HSUS CEO Kitty Block to give the chimpanzees the choice to spend their days in the forested habitat

Primate community stakeholders (sanctuary directors, primatologists and veterinarians) are aware of the systemic failures at Project Chimps, but they have not spoken out publicly. That can be attributed to a desire to avoid infighting or, more likely, to a fear of retaliation. HSUS is well known in the animal advocacy community for using its resources to intimidate and silence its critics. It used its lawyers at Seyfarth Shaw LLP, a global law firm with 12 offices in the U.S., to represent Project Chimps in its lawsuit against the whistleblowers. (HSUS ultimately dropped the suit, but not before the whistleblowers spent $30,000 on legal fees, a very large sum for young people earning a modest sanctuary salary.)

Fear of retaliation also helps to explain why former Project Chimps employees, who bonded with the chimpanzees, have been silent for the last year. Their fear of violating their termination agreements, however, could be outweighed by their desire to help the chimps.

The Nonhuman Rights Project is calling on The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to provide its clients, Hercules and Leo, with daily access to an outdoor yard.

A conflict of interest could also explain why stakeholders in the primate sanctuary community have been silent. Many receive monetary and/or non-monetary support from HSUS that they cannot afford to turn down.

Since writing my first article about the plight of the chimps in HSUS’s care, advocates have asked me why HSUS, an organization whose mission is to protect animals, is failing the animals in their own care. I can only surmise, based on my experience at its chimpanzee sanctuary in Liberia, that HSUS doesn’t want to spend the money to transform Project Chimps into a real sanctuary. This frugality is inexcusable not only because of HSUS’s considerable wealth, but also because the organization has raised millions of dollars off of the plight of captive chimps.

The 77 chimpanzees at Project Chimps have access to an outdoor habitat for approximately 10 hours per week. They spend the remainder of their days in concrete porches that HSUS and Project Chimps describe as “outdoors”

Over the past several months, outside inspections that revealed serious deficiencies have left HSUS with no choice but to publicly acknowledge problems at Project Chimps in Georgia, but the organization has downplayed the problems as minor. If HSUS were to acknowledge the seriousness of the problems, then it would be forced to make the necessary investments and to acknowledge that the whistleblowers who they sued were right all along.

Continued public pressure will ultimately compel HSUS to fix the systemic failures at Project Chimps, but shouldn’t HSUS have wanted to live up to its promise to provide a “great home for retired chimpanzees” in the first place?

Progress For Science, a Los Angeles-based animal rights group,  protests at the Santa Monica home The Humane Society of the United States board member Steven White over the mistreatment of animals at its Project Chimps sanctuary

In order for HSUS to uphold the mission of Project Chimps “to provide lifelong exemplary care” to the chimpanzees in its care, it must do the following:
  1. Begin constructing additional yards on its 236 acre forested property so that the chimps have access to the outdoors every day instead of every third day.
  2. Rotate two groups of chimps (instead of one) into each of the two yards every day (one group in the morning, and the other in the afternoon) so that the chimps have access to the outdoors between 4 and 5 times each week.
  3. Hire an Executive Director who has chimpanzee experience; who instinctively prioritizes the welfare of the animals and who has the respect of his or her peers in the primate sanctuary community.
  4. Hire a veterinarian and vet tech who have chimpanzee expertise.
  5. Appoint two people to Board of Directors of Project Chimps who have captive chimpanzee experience and are willing and able to function independently from HSUS.

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Inspection Confirms Allegations of Animal Welfare Failures at HSUS’s Project Chimps

December 15, 2020 by Leave a Comment


The News

A highly anticipated “Chimp Welfare Assessment” conducted by renowned primatologist Dr. Steve Ross documented inadequate veterinary care, insufficient access to the outdoors and an inexperienced staff at Project Chimps, a Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) sanctuary in Georgia with 78 chimpanzees. The assessment, which examines welfare management programs, spaces and socialization, was conducted in November 2020 in response to public outcry generated by evidence of animal cruelty posted on HelpTheChimps.org by two whistleblowers who worked with the chimps, Crystal Alba and Lindsay Vanderhoogt.

Chimp Welfare Management Programs

In the programs category,  Dr. Ross gave Project Chimps a D (67%). This category assesses veterinary services, enrichment, training, safety, staffing and diet. According to Dr. Ross, “There is relatively little veterinary experience” and “veterinary resources are moderate.” 

For years, Project Chimps employees and volunteers have privately – and ultimately publicly – raised concerns about substandard, dangerous and inhumane veterinary care. Even with well-documented, specific examples, HSUS and Project Chimps routinely dismissed staff and volunteer complaints about veterinary care.

Whistleblowers posted evidence of poor veterinary care at HelpTheChimps.org

Dr. Ross also addresses the “low experience level” of the staff, which Project Chimps attributes to a small pool of potential applicants. According to the whistleblowers, however, the experience level is low because Project Chimps has fired several highly experienced veterinarians and caregivers who voiced concerns about welfare issues and replaced them with junior, inexperienced and malleable staff members. Project Chimps claims that inexperienced staffers can learn on the job, but former staff members note that the organization no longer employs experienced managers who can adequately train junior staff.

Chimp Spaces

In the “spaces” category, Dr. Ross gave Project Chimps a B- (81%). This category encompasses the “physical housing of the chimpanzees, including environmental complexity and opportunities for choice.” Dr. Ross noted that “a substantial drawback of the space was the relatively limited access to the outdoor yards.” 

At Project Chimps, the 78 chimpanzees are held in concrete enclosures for all but 10 hours a week, according to whistleblowers

According to the whistleblowers, the 78 chimpanzees have access to the habitat for approximately 10 hours per week. They spend the remainder of the time in concrete enclosures.

Even before Project Chimps creates additional yards on its 200 acre property, it could, according to former staffers, increase outdoor time for all of the chimps in the current habitat if management made it a priority. 

On occasion, the chimps are denied their scheduled time in the outdoor habitat when a paid tour group is on site. That is because management will put out a chimp group that is more likely to entertain visitors. This was a source of frustration for Crystal Alba, the whistleblower: “Sanctuaries are supposed to prioritize the welfare of the animals, not the amusement of the tour groups.”

The 78 chimpanzees at Project Chimps have access to an outdoor habitat for approximately 10 hours per week. They spend the remainder of their days in concrete porches that HSUS and Project Chimps describe as “outdoors”

Chimp Social Life

A third section of the report grades the sanctuary on the “social life of the chimpanzees living in their groups.” In this category, Dr. Ross gives Project Chimps an A (94%). This score reflects the fact that the chimps live in robust social groups. However, Dr. Ross explicitly stated that he did not observe every chimp at the facility or assess the social condition of individual chimps. 

The Release of the Report

On October 24th, Dr. Ross publicly stated that he was finalizing his assessment and would post it on his ChimpCare website in November. That never happened. On November 30th, he posted just a brief synopsis of his assessment and wrote that Project Chimps “has been provided a detailed report.”

Instead of posting the stand alone report, Project Chimps created a new document that featured its own responses to the report alongside a blurry, illegible version of the report itself. Due to public pressure, Project Chimps eventually posted a somewhat more legible version of Dr. Ross’s report, but it is still difficult to read and is “covered up” by Project Chimps’ responses (see image below).

Instead of posting Dr. Steve’s Ross’s assessment of the sanctuary, Project Chimps created a response document that blurred Dr. Ross’s report.

The duplicitous way in which this report has been released reinforces the mistrust that exists among the growing number of whistleblowers, advocates and donors who have been speaking out about the lack of proper leadership and egregious welfare issues at Project Chimps. It also leaves advocates asking several questions: 

  1. Why didn’t Dr. Ross publish the full report on his ChimpCare website in the first place?  
  2. Once he saw that Project Chimps posted a marked up, blurry version of his report, why didn’t Dr. Ross post the report on his own website?
  3. Given that Dr. Ross is a published, well regarded scientist, wouldn’t he want his peers in the science and primate sanctuary communities to have the opportunity to review the complete report, which is the first one produced using his ChimpCare tool? 

In response to some of these questions, Dr. Ross tweeted on December 10th that “it was never communicated that the full report would be public,” but that contradicts the October 24th tweet in which he stated that his report will be posted on ChimpCare.org in November. It also flies in the face of transparency, standard scientific principles and research practices. To assess the validity of research findings, the complete methodology and analyses should be made available for review. Dr. Ross published the equivalent of an abstract.

Based on Dr. Steve Ross’s tweets and social media posts by HSUS and Project Chimps, the activist groups advocating on behalf of the chimps assumed that Dr. Ross would post his complete report.

The assessment conducted by Dr. Ross was commissioned by the Arcus Foundation.

The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries Inspection

In February 2020, about five months before Dr. Ross began his assessment, the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) conducted a one-day inspection at Project Chimps. While HSUS claimed that “Project Chimps invited GFAS to provide an objective outside assessment,” Crystal Alba said that the “inspection was conducted in direct response to whistleblower complaints and under pressure from PETA.”

After the GFAS inspection, HSUS claimed that “the assessment confirmed that claims alleging mistreatment of chimpanzees are unfounded and misleading.”  Alba, who was present for the investigation, disputes HSUS’s claim. “The two inspectors did not attempt to hide how unhappy they were about the nesting material, lack of climbing structures, small living areas and more. Project Chimps was required to address these issues as a result of this inspection.”

While GFAS, HSUS and Project Chimps refused to make that report public, Project Chimps did post seven recommendations made by GFAS which corroborated the whistleblower complaints.

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

In a public statement about the GFAS report posted on August 15th, HSUS wrote that Project Chimps “completed” implementing GFAS’s recommendations. In the same statement, HSUS wrote that the GFAS report exonerated them: “That assessment confirmed that claims alleging mistreatment of chimpanzees were unfounded.”

How can HSUS and Project Chimps claim that welfare issues have been fixed in the same statement in which it claims they didn’t exist in the first place? 

Furthermore, if the problems raised by GFAS were, in fact, fixed, then how does HSUS explain the D grade for welfare management programs that Dr. Ross gave Project Chimps less than six months later? 

The Internal Investigation

In December 2019 (before the GFAS and Ross investigations), multiple chimpanzee caregivers and sanctuary volunteers began to contact outside agencies because Project Chimps executives and board members refused to acknowledge or address the welfare issues at the sanctuary. In response, Project Chimps announced that it would initiate aninternal investigation.” This investigation was conducted by Katie Conlee, an HSUS employee who also serves as Vice President of the Board of Project Chimps. 

According to Alba, “Staff eagerly awaited the results of the Conlee investigation, but they were never allowed to see them. They were simply told that the Conlee investigation found no problems with operations at Project Chimps. When the Conlee report was leaked, we realized that the intent of the investigation was to discredit and silence employees, not to address the welfare issues they raised.”

The leaked report showed that Conlee did document management problems. She wrote, The investigation has revealed that the root causes of various problems appear to be inadequate management, communications and transparency regarding concerns raised by staff and subsequent decision making.”  The whistleblowers and other activists advocating on behalf of the chimps argue that, in order for animal welfare issues to be resolved, the management needs to be replaced.

Assessment Report Raises More Questions

The fact that Dr. Ross’s assessment corroborates the whistleblower complaints about poor veterinary care, inadequate access to the outdoors and inexperienced staff begs the following questions. 

1. How do HSUS and Project Chimps reconcile the findings of Dr. Ross’s report with their multiple public statements claiming that chimp care is excellent and that welfare concerns are invalid?

Between 2016 and 2019, approximately 15 employees, volunteers and donors submitted complaints about animal welfare to the management and board of Project Chimps. According to Vanderhoogt, several of the people who raised concerns, including veterinarians, vet techs and caregivers, were fired. Alba, who served as both a chimp caregiver and the staff photographer, was one of them. Many other employees who came forward were “bullied” into silence.

Throughout 2020, HSUS repeatedly claimed that outside inspectors have indicated that animal care is excellent at Project Chimps when they have, in fact, corroborated many of serious animal welfare problems exposed by whistleblowers.

In January 2020, the Board’s President, Bruce Wagman sent an email to employees and volunteers dismissing the complaints. “We found zero actual problems in the chimpanzee welfare area, and zero valid concerns with our veterinary efforts.” Alba notes that, prior to becoming the Chairman of the Board of Project Chimps, Wagman had no chimpanzee experience. 

In May 2020, 22 whistleblowers who worked or volunteered at Project Chimps sent a letter to Wagman requesting a meeting with the Board to discuss their concerns. Wagman again dismissed their concerns as “unfounded” and “untrue” and stated that, “we will not engage on this matter with you moving forward.” 

Letter to Project Chimps Board of Directors signed by 22 staffers and volunteers who worked at the sanctuary

Throughout 2020, other former employees of Project Chimps posted testimonials about animal welfare issues, despite their concerns about retribution by HSUS and Project Chimps. The following testimonial was posted on July 14th by Michael Cullen-Bedoya, who worked as a chimpanzee caregiver.

In spite of concerns about retribution by HSUS and Project Chimps, former employees of Project Chimps have posted testimonials about animal welfare issues. This one was posted on July 14, 2020

2. Now that the whistleblower allegations have been corroborated by Dr. Ross’s assessment, will Project Chimps and HSUS apologize for suing them?

While employed by Project Chimps as an animal caregiver, Alba documented many of the animal welfare infractions that she observed, including untreated wounds, insufficient enrichment, infrequent access to the outdoors, the elimination of substrate and rushed introductions. When her three year effort to effect change from within the organization failed, Alba, in collaboration with Vanderhoogt, posted this documentation online. Taking a page out of the playbook of the animal agriculture industry, Project Chimps filed a lawsuit to intimidate and silence them. 

On June 1st, 2020, Project Chimps filed a lawsuit against whistleblowers Crystal Alba and Lindsay Vanderhoogt in an attempt to intimidate and silence them.

Even though HSUS held 6 of the 11 seats on Project Chimps’ board and paid the salary of the organization’s Executive Director, HSUS tried to distance itself from the lawsuit, claiming it had no decision-making power. HSUS also refused to condemn the lawsuit, even though whistleblowing is a vital tool employed by animal advocacy organizations, including HSUS. 

Angered by the lawsuit and chimp mistreatment, animal rights activists began targeting HSUS board members with protests. Soon after a protest at the San Francisco home of HSUS Board Chair Susan Atherton, Project Chimps dropped the lawsuit. 

The Project Chimps lawsuit sent a chilling message to advocates at other institutions who might have come forward to blow the whistle about animal abuse. If a self-proclaimed animal protection organization like HSUS supports the use of litigation to silence people reporting animal abuse, then companies that earn profits off of abuse would assuredly do the same.

Criticism from National Animal Rights Groups

In October, 2020, the Nonhuman Rights Project (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.

In its statement, NhRP wrote, “We demand that Project Chimps and HSUS take whatever steps and devote whatever resources are necessary to immediately provide them with daily access to an outdoor habitat, either at Project Chimps or any other suitable place. We also strongly urge Project Chimps and HSUS to immediately take concrete action to enable the other chimpanzees at Project Chimps to have daily access to the outdoors, not two or more years from now, but today.”

After successfully liberating chimpanzees Hercules and Leo from a laboratory in Stonybrook, New York, attorneys with the Nonhuman Rights Project are having to once again fight to free them.  They are demanding that HSUS and Project Chimps provide them with access to the outdoors every day

In July, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) posted a statement in support of the whistleblowers. 

National Geographic Investigation

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

In July, Progress for Science, TheirTurn and primatologist Bob Ingersoll began staging protests at the homes of HSUS board members, including Brad Jakeman (Sag Harbor, NY), Steven White (Santa Monica, CA), Sharon Lee Patrick (NYC); and Susan Atherton (San Francisco).

HSUS Response

After Dr. Ross announced a D grade (67%) for animal welfare programs, HSUS was left with no choice but to acknowledges that Project Chimps needs to institute welfare reforms. By stating that it plans to help Project Chimps “prioritize the improvements that are most important,” HSUS unwittingly admits that many reforms are, in fact, needed. Nevertheless, HSUS used its public statement about the report as another opportunity to discredit the whistleblowers that recommended the reforms in the first place: “This independent assessment. .. confirms that allegations of abuse are profoundly off the mark.”  Dr. Ross’s report doesn’t address the whistleblowers’ specific allegations of abuse, such as leaving open wounds untreated and depriving a particular chimp group of access to the outdoor habitat for eight months. In fact, Dr. Ross noted on his website that the grades “do not make any attempt to adjudicate past practices.”  

Given that Dr. Ross gave Project Chimps a D grade on animal welfare programs, HSUS was forced to acknowledge that welfare reforms are needed. It continued, however, to discredit the whistleblowers who made the same recommendations

In public statements posted after previous inspections revealed animal welfare issues, HSUS similarly spun the results instead of accepting responsibility for the welfare failures. 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.”

What’s Next?

Under the current management, Project Chimps has subjected the 78 chimpanzees in its care to gross mistreatment. It has also mistreated its employees by suing whistleblowers; threatening “disciplinary action” against employees who, out of desperation, addressed their concerns with external organizations; firing those with the most experience and bullying others into silence or resigning.

According to former employees and volunteers, the welfare reforms proposed by Dr. Ross in his report can only be implemented under the right leadership — leaders 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. In addition to new management, Project Chimps needs to have at least two board members with captive chimpanzee experience.

Until HSUS and Projects Chimps do the right thing, advocates around the country vow to hold them accountable. 

From left to right. Animal rights activists protest at Ryland, a clothing store in Sag Harbor, New York,  co-owned by HSUS board member Brad Jakeman. Activists in San Francisco protest at the home of Susan Atherton, the co-chair of HSUS’s Board of Directors. Both Jakeman and Atherton have posted photos online in which they are wearing real fur.


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Animal Rights Activists Protest HSUS Board Members in NYC and LA Over Animal Cruelty at Project Chimps

November 13, 2020 by Leave a Comment


The News

Several dozen animal rights activists in New York protested 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 inhumane living conditions at Project Chimps, an HSUS sanctuary in Georgia. The protest came just one week after Los Angeles-based activists with Progress for Science staged a similar protest at the Santa Monica home of another HSUS board member, Steven White, who is a managing director of the international investment firm Angelo Gordon.

Activists began protesting HSUS board members in July, 2020, after less confrontational approaches failed to compel HSUS to acknowledge a litany of animal welfare issues raised in a letter to the board sent by 22 people who either worked for or volunteered at Project Chimps. The welfare issues cited in the letter include poor veterinary care, overcrowding, rushed chimpanzee introductions, a lack of sufficient enrichment and infrequent access to the outdoor habitat.

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 can access the outdoor habitat for just 10 hours a week. They spend the rest of their waking hours in enclosed concrete rooms that HSUS and Project Chimps describe as “porches” that are “outdoors.” This deficiency triggered the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), a renowned legal advocacy group, to issue a public statement calling on HSUS and Project Chimps to provide the chimpanzees with daily access to an outdoor habitat.

Excerpt of Project Chimps statement addressing animal mistreatment allegations

During the summer of 2020, National Geographic, which learned about the whistleblower allegations, conducted its own investigation of Project Chimps and published their findings in an in depth story on July 9th. In a letter to the editor, Project Chimps argued that the article was biased and excluded their side of the story.

In addition to protests, animal rights activists are using social media to expose the inhumane living conditions at HSUS’s Project Chimps facility in Georgia

In late October and early November, activists with several grass roots animal rights groups, including Progress For Science and Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN), sent letters to the corporations sponsoring HSUS’s annual fundraising gala asking that they confront HSUS about the cruel conditions at Project Chimps. Among the major corporations that have not yet responded are the insurance behemoth Liberty Mutual and PVH Corp, which owns Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and several other luxury fashion brands.

Liberty Mutual, a sponsor of HSUS’s annual “To The Rescue” fundraising gala, ignored letters sent by advocates soliciting their assistance with HSUS

On November 7th, Project Chimps posted a statement on its website defending against specific allegations made by the activists. In the statement, Project Chimps does not validate any of the welfare concerns cited in the letter to the board sent by 22 former employees and volunteers.


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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 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


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

October 23, 2020 by Leave a Comment


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


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