Will $6 million be enough to provide lifetime care to as many as 66 chimps abandoned in Liberia by the New York Blood Center?
NEW YORK CITY, WASHINGTON D.C.––Response from animal advocates was mixed after Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle on May 30, 2017 announced a $6 million commitment from the New York Blood Center to the future care of as many as 66 chimpanzees left stranded on estuarial islands in Liberia after the Blood Center abandoned a 70-year-old research project in March 2015.
Pacelle said of the deal that it “provides financial resources for the careful stewardship of these chimpanzees, who deserve every measure of human mercy after the travails they’ve endured.”
Sell-out? Hush money?
Countered the first recipient of Pacelle’s announcement to forward a comment to ANIMALS 24-7, “HSUS and Pacelle sold out the animals for a paltry $6 million. That is a tiny drop in the ocean of what they will need. Disgusting!”
Others believed HSUS and Pacelle might have walked off with a sack full of hush money, after nearly two years of embarrassing the New York Blood Center with a high-profile campaign spotlighting the plight of the chimps.
Or just enough?
Rather than merely echo anyone’s second-hand opinion, ANIMALS 24-7 took a few days before reporting about the $6 million dollar deal to collect the data necessary to doing the hard actuarial math to see just what sort of a bargain HSUS and Pacelle struck.
The bottom line seems to be that if anyone ever manages to make a buck out of operating a chimp sanctuary, the New York Blood Center contribution of $6 million gives HSUS the chance. The $6 million appears to be just about enough to ensure that the abandoned chimps will at least receive food and protection from poachers and encroachment on their habitat for the remainder of their lives.
But $6 million is not enough to guarantee the chimps much more than the bare minimum of care that they need. Any and all extras will have to be raised by HSUS itself.
The HSUS commitment
Recounted Pacelle, “HSUS and Humane Society International responded to an emergent crisis in 2015, when the chimpanzees were left to fend for themselves on estuarine islands that had insufficient natural food and water resources. Dedicated individuals took it upon themselves to provide enough food and water for the chimpanzees to survive in the first days, but the circumstance required the intervention of a party that had the staying power to provide daily care to the animals.
“With the support of the Liberian government and more than 35 animal protection and conservation organizations worldwide,” Pacelle said, “HSUS stepped in, bringing on many of the chimps’ long-term caregivers. We’ve been there ever since, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars a month. We have a staff of more than 30 people operating the facility, led by great ape specialists Jim and Jenny Desmond, as well as John Zeonyuway and Joseph Thomas, who have worked with the chimpanzees in Liberia for decades.
“Chimps are long-lived”
“Chimpanzees are long-lived,” Pacelle acknowledged, “and our response to this crisis essentially obligated us to a 40-year commitment and millions of dollars to provide proper housing, enrichment, and veterinary care for them. The crux of the agreement announced today stipulates that the NYBC and HSUS are effectively splitting the costs for long-term care of the chimpanzees, which will include day-to-day care and also the construction of improved sanctuary facilities. HSUS and HSI will take on responsibility for the lifetime care of the chimpanzees,” Pacelle pledged, “and will seek support from our supporters and others to help raise the remainder of the needed funds.”
Pacelle thanked in particular “the government of Liberia, the Arcus Foundation, chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall and the Jane Goodall Institute, Duke University scientist Brian Hare, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, actors and animal advocates Kate and Rooney Mara, the American Anti-Vivisection Society, and the Liberia Animal Welfare and Conservation Society” for their contributions to the Liberian chimp rescue project so far.
The chimps, Pacelle recalled, “not only endured invasive experiments, but also survived two civil wars in Liberia. Sadly,” Pacelle said, “these circumstances claimed the lives of many of the original colony of more than 400 chimpanzees.”
Show me the money!
But the $6 million question is, has the New York Blood Center chipped in enough? Will HSUS, Humane Society International, and their donors really be willing and able to chip in the rest of whatever amount of funding will be needed for as long as the chimps will need sanctuary care?
Answering that question requires multiplying the average cost of maintaining a chimp for a year in Liberia by the number of chimps to be looked after, and then by the number of years the chimps will be in care.
Each of those factors involves major unknowns. For example, the high estimate of the number of chimps left on the Liberian islands was 66; the low estimate was 60.
How old are the chimps?
While the chimps were supposedly all sterilized, there were also reports of breeding among the chimp colony until recent years. The age structure of the former New York Blood Center colony was closely documented only until 2005, when the Vilab II research project was mothballed. Because of unexpected births occurring to offset the aging of the older chimps, the colony might have become younger on average than it was then.
To estimate the average cost of care for the Liberian chimps, ANIMALS 24-7 looked at the most recent available audited financial statements or IRS Form 990 filings from seven existing chimpanzee sanctuaries, three of them in the U.S. and four elsewhere in Africa.
The U.S. sanctuary budgets are instructive because they reflect the standard of care that U.S. foundations and individual high donors are likely to want to see.
U.S. chimp care costs
Save The Chimps, in Florida, maintains about 250 chimpanzees on an annual care budget of $4.4 million: about $17,550 per chimp.
Chimp Haven, in Louisiana, maintains about 220 chimpanzees on an annual care budget of about $3.4 million: about $15,350 per chimp.
Primarily Primates, in Texas, maintains 43 chimps, among about 400 animals altogether, mostly smaller primates and birds. While the multiplicity of species makes breaking out the Primarily Primates chimp care budget difficult, the average cost of chimp care there might be about $14,000 per chimp per year.
African chimp care costs
Comparing the budgets of the U.S. chimp sanctuaries to those in Africa suggests that the African facilities can offer chimps approximately as much by way of care, staffing, and facilities for about a third the cost.
Among the African sanctuaries, the Jane Goodall Institute maintains 33 chimps at Chimpanzee Eden, in the Umhloti Nature Reserve, near Barberton, Mpumalanga, South Africa, and 52 chimps at Tchimpounga Sanctuary, Pointe Noir, Republic of the Congo.
The Sanaga Yong sanctuary in Cameroon, a project of In Defense of Animals from 1998 until 2016, maintains 72 chimps on an annual budget of about $325,850: $4,526 per chimp. The Cameroon sanctuary now has a new U.S. affiliate and sponsor, Sanaga Yong Chimpanzee Rescue, which has not yet completed a fiscal year of operation.
The facility likely to offer the closest comparison to the needs and operating costs of the former New York Blood Center chimp colony is the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Sierra Leone, founded in 1995. The Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary currently houses about 75 chimps on an annual care budget of about $168,635, amounting to about $2,250 per chimp.
While the former New York Blood Center chimp colony probably could not operate on as little as Tacugama, it might be able to survive on the equivalent of $3,400 per chimp per year in 2017 U.S. dollars.
How long will the chimps live?
The Journal of Human Evolution has published at least two actuarial surveys of chimpanzee populations in the wild and in captivity.
The first, in 2001, looked at the chimps in five study populations––Gombe, Taï, Kibale, Mahale, Bossou––and listed among the five co-authors Jane Goodall and Harvard primatologist Richard Wrangham, known best for his 2010 book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. The 2001 study covered 3,711 years of chimpanzee lives, including 278 deaths.
The second study published by Journal of Human Evolution, listing Wrangham as one of two co-authors, looked only at the chimps of the Kanyawara community in Kibale National Park, Uganda. This study, completed in 2013, looked at 1,129 years of chimp lives, including 56 deaths.
Concluded the 2013 study, “Life table data from Kanyawara indicate a mean mortality rate of 3.9% per year over the ages of 10-35, substantially less than the equivalent figure of 6.8%” found by the 2001 study.
Funds might last for 57 years
ANIMALS 24-7 assembled actuarial tables assuming starting populations of 60 and 65 chimpanzees at the former New York Blood Center chimp colony, and mortality rates of either 3.9% per year or 6.8% per year, to project the range of chimp years of life that the Humane Society of the U.S. and Humane Society International might be undertaking to fund, with the initial contribution of $6 million from the New York Blood Center.
The ANIMALS 24-7 projections suggest that the possible total commitment to chimpanzee care might run half again as long as the 40 years Pacelle mentioned. After 20 years, however, the former New York Blood Center chimp colony is likely to have declined to fewer than 20 surviving members, and after 30 years, there will most probably be only 10 surviving members.
By that point the ages and numbers of the survivors will suggest either relocating the chimps to a smaller habitat, or repurposing much of the present habitat. The greatest uncertainty is how much longer the youngest and healthiest colony members may live beyond 30 years.
At an average cost per chimp of $3,400/year, and 6.8% annual mortality, assuming all of the money is spent on care and feeding, the first $1 million of the New York Blood Center contribution will be gone within seven years, but nearly $4 million will remain after seven years. The entire fund will not be exhausted for 57 years.
How the chimps came to be there
Kaleigh Rogers of Motherboard, an “online magazine and video channel dedicated to the intersection of technology, science and humans,” who was then among the few journalists to have visited the Liberian chimp colony in person, exposed the former Vilab II chimps’ plight on May 28, 2015.
“On a string of tiny islands in the middle of a river,” Rogers began, “dozens of chimpanzees await an increasingly bleak future. The swampy jungle islands provide the chimps no food, no water, and because chimps aren’t strong swimmers, no means of escape. The apes aren’t from the islands, but for the last 10 years, the islands have been their home. Now they’re in danger of starving there,” after the New York Blood Center reneged on a 2005 pledge to retire the chimps from research and guarantee their lifetime care.
The former New York Blood Center chimp colony originated in 1946 as the Liberian Institute of Tropical Medicine, a project of then-Harvard University Department of Tropical Medicine chief Richard Pearson Strong, funded by the Firestone Rubber Company.
Firestone had in 1926 founded the world’s largest rubber plantation at Harbel, Liberia, and for decades thereafter sponsored research meant to keep the workers healthy. By 1974, however, the Firestone funding and ended, and only one of the first scientists to arrive, Earl Reber, remained on the 120-acre site, with eight chimps.
Founded in 1964 by Aaron Kellner, M.D., the New York Blood Center had meanwhile rapidly expanded into the biggest blood bank and blood research institution in the world.
A year after acquiring the eight chimps left in Reber’s care and bringing them to New York, the New York Blood Center reversed course and relocated its chimp studies back to Liberia. The first chimps arrived in Liberia in 1975. Eventually the colony included more than 200 chimps, some of whom were retired to island colonies at the facilities long known as Vilab II as early as 1978.
Engulfed in civil war for more than seven years, beginning in December 1989, the Vilab II chimp colony survived, despite the deaths of more than half the chimps who were there when the fighting started, but the laboratory itself never regained the international prominence it had formerly held.
Ivory Coast colony abandoned too
Vilab II was not the first chimpanzee colony abandoned by the New York Blood Center, Stop Animal Exploitation Now cofounder Michael Budkie charged in August 2015, soon after Rogers of Motherboard disclosed the condition of the Liberian chimps.
“The New York Blood Center apparently discarded another largely unknown group of 20 chimps in Ivory Coast in 1983, on an island adjacent to Azagny National Park,” Budkie said, citing documentation furnished “in a 1984 New York Times article and in the 2003 book West African Chimpanzees,” produced by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
All but one of the chimps left in Ivory Coast were by then deceased. The last, Ponso, was at last report still being looked after by villager Germaine Jamal, who has brought Ponso food and water for the past several years while Chimpanzee Conservation Center, Guinea founder Estelle Raballand tries to arrange for Ponso to be relocated to be among other chimps at a sanctuary.
The government of Ivory Coast in December 2016 refused to allow Ponso to be sent to the Chimfunshi sanctuary in Zambia, but Rabilland on March 27, 2017 posted to Facebook that Ponso might be accepted into the Liberian chimp colony, having apparently been born in Liberia circa 1970.