In March of 2015, during the height of the Ebola crisis, the New York Blood Center(NYBC), a U.S. based research institution, stopped paying for the care of over 60 of its chimpanzees. These chimps which were used in hepatitis research at a center in Liberia, were then left on islands to live out their lives. The research project they were used in was created and funded by the NYBC in partnership with the Government of Liberia.
When the NYBC stopped conducting research on chimpanzees 11 years ago and the chimpanzees used in the NYBC’s research were relocated from the Liberian Institute for Biomedical research, where research on the great apes begin in 1974. These chimpanzees, some of which were caught from the wild for use in research, were placed on several islands off of the coast of Liberia where, for 10 years, they were fed and watered by funds given by the NYBC. However, when funding stopped there was no one to care for these chimpanzees, and with no natural resources or access to fresh water, they began to die from starvation.
One chimpanzee that has captured the attention of the media is a 40+ year old male chimpanzee named “Ponso.” Ponso was initially released onto an island in 1983 once he was no longer needed for NYBC research. Though he was initially released with 19 other chimpanzees, within a few months 11 of the chimpanzees died from poaching and lack of care, and once the remaining were moved again, 5 more chimpanzees died. Over the years care for the chimpanzees has dwindled to the bits of food brought over by locals, and now Ponso, a highly social great ape, sits alone on his island, waiting for food and water.
Pens, along with the 64 other chimpanzees, who live together on a different island, were stranded by the NYBC who were meant to care for these animals for the remainder of their lives, according to the Liberian government.
Since the money for food and water stopped coming from the NYBC the Humane Society stepped in and raised over $300,000 to continue the care of the chimpanzees, which may seem like enough money, but will only keep the chimpanzees in food and water for 15 months as costs to keep them properly fed run about $20,000 per month.
The Humane Society has set up a crowdfunding page pleading with people to donate to the chimpanzees stating that:
These chimpanzees have been through so much already, from the research they endured to deaths incurred during Liberia’s civil wars and, ultimately, the complete abandonment by the very organization that profited from their abuse.
The NYBC has claimed that, since it outsourced to Liberia, it never technically owned the chimpanzees and therefore had done no wrong by stopping care. Though to put salt on a wound, they stopped care at a time when the Liberian government would have had no way to step in to continue support for chimpanzees they did not know they would be responsible for(as the government has stated that NYBC led them to believe they would continue care throughout the great apes lives). The reason that Liberia would not have been able to assist at the time the NYBC cut off funding is because this occurred during the height of the Ebola Virus Epidemic in West Africa which killed almost 5,000 people in Liberia alone from Summer 2014 to Fall 2015.