Animal rights activists in New York City staged a sixth protest at Upper East Side home of Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) board member Sharon Lee Patrick over the mistreatment of animals at its Project Chimps sanctuary in Georgia. The #ChimpsDeserveBetter protests, which have also been staged in Los Angeles, San Francisco and The Hamptons, are part of a nationwide campaign to compel HSUS to transform Project Chimps from a chimpanzee warehouse into a true sanctuary. At Project Chimps, the 77 chimpanzees are held in concrete enclosures for all but about 10 hours per week. Advocates argue that the chimpanzees, who spent up to several decades locked up in laboratories, should have access to an outdoor habitat every day.
The protest marked the one year anniversary of a lawsuit that Project Chimps filed against two whistleblowers who came forward publicly with extensive evidence of animal cruelty, including the absence of skilled veterinary care, poor safety protocols, substandard facilities, infrequent access to the outdoor yards, overcrowding and rushed introductions.
Protests organized by animal rights groups at the homes of HSUS board members in New York and California triggered Project Chimps to drop the lawsuit two months after filing it. Nevertheless, the whistleblowers had to raise $30,000 to cover their legal expenses.
In recent weeks, activists working on the #ChimpsDeserveBetter campaign have turned their attention to the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS), an organization that accredits animal sanctuaries that meet its rigorous standards. Confused about why GFAS accredited a sanctuary that doesn’t meet many of its standards, the activists researched the relationship between GFAS and HSUS and discovered several conflicts of interest.
Since 2007, many people who have worked at GFAS or served on its board have been affiliated with HSUS. One of the GFAS founders was the Chief Operating Officer of HSUS, and another served as treasurer of a political action committee founded by HSUS. Today, these individuals serve on GFAS’s Board of Directors. A Senior Vice President at HSUS also serves on the board, and an HSUS employee works at GFAS. In addition, one of the GFAS employees who inspected Project Chimps in 2020 is a former HSUS employee. HSUS also provides financial support to GFAS, according to GFAS’s 2018 and 2019 annual reports. Advocates assert that GFAS cannot make unbiased assessments of an HSUS sanctuary if it is comprised of people affiliated with HSUS; is partially funded by HSUS; and has administrative ties to HSUS.
On May 10th, 2021, Donny Moss of TheirTurn sent a letter to the President of the Board of Directors of GFAS to express his concerns about the conflicts of interest and to ask GFAS to enforce its own standards in order to improve chimpanzee care.
On May 13th, the Chairman of the Board responded to Moss’s letter. “We are involved and working with Project Chimps. I’m at least guardedly optimistic that GFAS will have more forthcoming related to Project Chimps that we can speak to publicly within a week or so.”
In addition to grass roots animal rights organizations, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) have publicly called on HSUS to improve animal welfare conditions at Project Chimps. In several letters to HSUS CEO Kitty Block, NhRP has asked that Project Chimps provide their chimpanzee clients Hercules and Leo with daily access to the outdoor habitats.
HSUS has ignored NhRP’s request, and, in its public statements, asserts that the chimpanzees have daily access to the outdoors on “porches.” Advocates argue that the porches, which are concrete enclosures with a view of the outdoors, are not outdoors.
The #ChimpsDeserveBetter campaign organizers have vowed to continue advocating for the chimps until HSUS acknowledges the welfare problems and demonstrates that it is addressing them. On June 13th, the animal rights group Progress for Science is staging a protest at the home of HSUS board Member Steven White in Santa Monica, California.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Hire a veterinarian and vet tech who have chimpanzee expertise.
- 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
Filed under: Experimentation
Tagged with: chimpanzees, Humane Society of the United States, Project Chimps