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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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Animal Rights Groups Call for New Leadership at HSUS’s Project Chimps

January 25, 2021 by Leave a Comment


The News

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.”

The Humane Society’s internal investigation of Project Chimps revealed that “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.

Dr. Steve Ross, a renowned primatologist, gave Project Chimps a D grade on its welfare management programs, which are the responsibility of the organization’s Executive Director

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.

Animal rights groups, including The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), have called on HSUS to improve animal welfare at Project Chimps

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.

Roxy and Lindsey, two of the 78 chimpanzees at HSUS’s Project Chimps facility in Georgia

 

 


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Neighbors Lash Out During Animal Rights Protest Against HSUS

December 21, 2020 by Leave a Comment


The News

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.

Animal rights activists are demanding that the Humane Society of the United States transform Project Chimps from a “warehouse” into the sanctuary that they claim it is

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.

Animal rights groups, including The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), have called on HSUS to improve animal welfare at Project Chimps


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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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