Mahoney moved more than 200 chimps & monkeys to sanctuaries ahead of scheduled transfer to other labs
James Mahoney, DVM, 77, “passed away on September 6, 2017 as a result of complications of Lyme disease,” International Primate Protection League founder Shirley McGreal announced on September 20.
Remembered as the “Oskar Schindler of laboratory primates,” after the German industrialist who saved 1,200 Jews from Nazi death camps in 1944-1945 by routing them to safety through employment at his enameling factories, Mahoney and his wife Marie-Paule were longtime residents of Monroe, New York.
Started as livestock vet in Scotland
“Mahoney never had any real plan to make chimpanzees his life’s work,” recalled Beth Quinn of the Middletown Times Herald Record in 2000. “As a country veterinarian in Scotland during the 1960s, he was content to deliver cows of their calves in the Scottish highlands and care for the farmers’ livestock. The soft-spoken native Irishman had never met a chimp in his life before coming to America in the mid-’70s to complete a post-doctoral dissertation,” but in 1975 became staff veterinarian for the Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP), a New York University facility located in Sterling Forest, New York.
Transferred gibbons to sanctuary in 1982
Founded in 1965 by former Polish resistance fighter Jan-Moor Jankowski (1924-2005), LEMSIP “used mainly chimpanzees and macaques, but also had a small group of gibbons,” McGreal recalled. “In 1982 the laboratory started to find new homes for its gibbons. They were retired to the IPPL sanctuary in Summerville, South Carolina, which was then––and is now––the only sanctuary in the United States specializing in gibbons.
“Mahoney never forgot the gibbons,” McGreal said, “and came down regularly to stay at IPPL for a week or more, attending to their medical needs, and those of all the other gibbons who had joined us. He worked closely with our local veterinarian, John Ohlandt, DVM, and also attended many of our biennial conferences and often gave talks. Jim had a ready smile and strong Irish accent.”
Landmark court case
Moor-Jankowski as founding editor of the International Journal of Primatology in 1983 published a letter-to-the-editor from McGreal criticizing the Austrian pharmaceutical firm Immuno AG for planning to capture wild chimpanzees. Immuno AG responded by suing both McGreal and Moor-Jankowski for libel.
McGreal’s home insurer settled the case against her out of court, against her opposition, but Moor-Jankowski spent $2 million of his own money to win two landmark rulings by the New York State Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, which together won greater protection for authors and publishers of letters to the editors of publications.
LEMSIP closed abruptly in 1995
Moor-Jankowski’s defense of McGreal made him few friends among fellow animal researchers, and made him a marked man at New York University, where he clashed with the administration over funding for improved caging.
On August 9, 1995, one day after the USDA confirmed to New York University officials that Jankowski had reported bad conditions at another NYU lab, leading to NYU being charged with 378 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, NYU dismissed Moor-Jankowski, marked LEMSIP for closure, and began arranging for the 225 chimpanzees and 200 monkeys at the LEMSIP facility to be transferred to the Coulston Foundation, in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
Wrote Quinn, “Animal rights activists were outraged,” because the Coulston Foundation was “known for its inhumane and torturous treatment of chimpanzees. Despite the public outcry, Coulston got the chimps. At least that’s what we — and most of the rest of the world — believed.”
All the while, however, Mahoney was quietly relocating chimps and monkeys to sanctuaries, including the Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas, then operated by the Fund for Animals, now by the Humane Society of the U.S.; La Fondation Fauna in Carignan, Quebec: the National Sanctuary for Retired Research Primates in San Antonio, Texas; Primarily Primates, also in San Antonio; the Primate Rescue Center, in Nicholasville, Kentucky; and Wildlife Waystation, an inholder in the Angeles National Forest, just east of Glendale, California.
Wildlife Waystation received the first eight chimps, including 16-year-old Spike Mulligan, whom Jim and Marie-Paule Mahoney had raised in their home after his mother died during an emergency Caesarian delivery. Unfortunately, Spike Mulligan died only a month later from kidney and liver failure. Jim Mahoney flew to California to try to save him, but could not.
This reinforced Mahoney’s determination to save as many more chimps and monkeys as he could.
“For every chimp I saved, I condemned one”
“I found myself in the position of deciding who to sentence to a hopeless life,” Mahoney told Quinn. “It was a terrible thing. It tore me apart. For every chimp I was saving, I was condemning one.”
Wrote Quinn, “He chose chimps for Coulston based on a number of factors. Those already infected with HIV or hepatitis would go to him because they were too dangerous to be sent to sanctuaries.
“But I wanted to keep friends together, so I sometimes had to send an uninfected chimp with an infected one, in hopes that they would be kept together,” Mahoney added.
The 55 LEMSIP animal caretakers “did their part to help and to keep their activities secret,” Quinn recalled.
Mahoney personally transported many of the animals, including 32 chimps moved out to sanctuaries in December 1997, just five hours before Coulston Foundation personnel arrived to take over LEMSIP, but “his health was failing,” Quinn wrote. “Mahoney was hospitalized the day after the last truck of chimps pulled out of Sterling Forest. It took him a year to fully regain his health.”
“I don’t really remember those last few days,” Mahoney told Quinn. “I was very sick by then, and it’s all just a blur for me. “I’d done all I could. And my heart was broken for the ones I couldn’t save.”
“Mahoney had managed to sneak 109 chimpanzees and more than 100 monkeys out of LEMSIP and into sanctuary,” Quinn summarized.
“The rest went to Coulston,” at least temporarily. When the Coulston Foundation declared bankruptcy in 2003, the late Save The Chimps founder Carole Noon bought the Coulston facilities, with the aid of $3.7 million from the Arcus Foundation, and acquired 266 animals, mostly chimps, as part of the deal.
Remained at NYU for five more years
Mahoney “continued on as a member of the NYU Medical School faculty. He did not know why he wasn’t fired. In essence — and for all the right reasons — he stole $2 million worth of chimpanzees and $200,000 worth of monkeys that the school had promised to Frederick Coulston. Even so, no one at NYU ever raised the subject with him.”
Retiring from NYU on December 31, 2000, Mahoney “wrote several books,” McGreal recalled, “including one about Molly, a small dog the Mahoney family rescued from Vieques Island, Puerto Rico.”
Along with writing, Mahoney devoted much of the rest of his life to volunteer veterinary work at animal sanctuaries, especially those that had accepted the LEMSIP primates.
Led protest over Egyptian airport ape killings
Mahoney and McGreal in September 2001 led primatologists, veterinarians, and animal advocates worldwide in denouncing the actions of Egyptian customs officials and Egyptian ministry of agriculture veterinarians stationed at the Cairo airport, who intercepted an Egyptian/Nigerian woman in illegal possession of a four-month-old gorilla and a baby chimpanzee. Both animals had been smuggled aboard a flight to Cairo from Lagos without the transport permits required under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
Wrongly believing the infant gorilla and chimpanzee might be carrying HIV or Ebola virus, the officials drowned both animals in a vat of chemicals that they thought would sterilize the remains.
McGreal and Mahoney pointed out that both the gorilla and chimpanzee could easily have been repatriated to the Pandrillus sanctuary in Nigeria, had anyone bothered to ask, and had not even been seen by anyone knowledgeable about primate illnesses before they were killed.
Mahoney & the rogue elephant
Six months later, in February 2002, Mahoney won a directive from a three-judge panel of the Supreme Court of India ordering the Tamil Nadu forest department to allow him to treat a tuskless bull elephant on behalf of the India Project for Animals and Nature.
Known to IPAN donors as Loki, but called either Murthy or Makhna in Tamil Nadu, the elephant was captured in July 1998, after killing 18 people in a series of rampages. He was believed to be the same ex-logging elephant who had killed as many as 18 people in previous incidents.
Taken to the Mudumali elephant camp operated by the Tamil Nadu forestry department, Murthy eventually became “one of the most friendly elephants in the Mudumali camp,” mahout Thirumaran told P. Oppili of the Times News Network in July 2016.
“Couldn’t have been more cooperative”
Veterinarian N. Kalaivan, who treated Murthy years later for gunshot wounds suffered before Murthy was captured, told Oppili that, “Most of the time when injections have to be administered to Murthy, instead of creating a ruckus, he bends his leg to facilitate the work for vets. In fact, we recently removed [shotgun] pellets from his body and he couldn’t have been more cooperative.”
“Fit and healthy at 49,” Oppili concluded, “Murthy has been trained as a ‘kumki’ elephant, who assists forest officials in capturing other wild elephants who stray into human habitation.”
Mahoney was also noted for his work with dogs, cats, and other animals in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.