The Last-Ditch Effort to Save Abandoned Lab Chimps from Starving

A crowdfunding campaign has raised nearly $90,000, but it will only go so far.

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Jun 5 2015, 6:55pm

Image: Agnes Souchal

Last week, we reported that dozens of lab chimps, once instrumental in research into the hepatitis vaccine, were abandoned on an island by the nonprofit in charge of their care. Now, a coalition of animal welfare groups has raised close to $90,000 to help save the chimps.

The Human Society, along with more than two dozen other NGOs, launched a GoFundMe campaign last week with the goal of raising $150,000 to feed the chimps. In one week they've raised more than half of that goal, but even if they reach it, the future of these chimps remains in jeopardy.

The chimps were brought to the Liberian Institute of Biomedical Research in 1975 by the New York Blood Center—one of the largest nonprofit blood banks in the country—for a research project to find a vaccine for hepatitis B and C. When the research concluded in 2005, the chimps were "retired" to small, nearby islands with no access to food. Instead, the NYBC paid caretakers to bring the chimps daily meals.

A mother chimp on the island shares a cucumber with her baby. Video: Agnes Souchal

But earlier this year, the NYBC pulled the funding, leaving the chimps to starve unless someone else picked up the bill for their care. The Humane Society has stepped in to cover the cost of a reduced feeding schedule, and since then, the caretakers have been working for free. The Humane Society is hoping to raise enough to feed the chimps more regularly for a few months—it says it costs about $30,000 per month to feed the apes—but unless the NYBC reinstates its funding, the chimps are still in danger.

"It's just not sustainable to do it this way over the long term," Kathleen Conlee, the vice president of animal research issues at the Humane Society of the United States, told me last week.

The coalition has also started an online petition urging the NYBC to reinstate funding for the chimps it left behind that has collected more than 85,000 signatures. The Humane Society has sent multiple letters to the NYBC alerting it to the state of the chimps, but has yet to receive a response. Though a spokesperson answered some early inquiries, the NYBC has stopped responding to requests from Motherboard for interviews and updates on its position with regards to the chimpanzees.

In the meantime, the coalition is pleased with the support of the public and eager to do what they can for the chimps during the short term.

"I am overwhelmed with the support this campaign has received," Conlee wrote in a comment on the funding page. "Your support is also sending a message to others who might think it's OK to abandon their responsibilities to animals they have used for their own benefit."

Watch more Motherboard: last summer, we went to visit the chimps on the island:

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