Paint job was not “whitewashing” because Project Chimps used bright colors
BLUE RIDGE, Georgia–– Humane Society of the U.S. representatives once upon a time derisively denounced as eyewash meant to impress human visitors, not the imprisoned animals, the common zoo practice of painting scenic backdrops on bare concrete walls.
Staff and volunteers at the Project Chimps sanctuary, in Blue Ridge, Georgia, heavily sponsored by the Humane Society of the U.S., spent the weekend of July 17-18, 2021 painting scenic backdrops on about a third of the chimpanzee housing.
Posted Project Chimps to Facebook, “Murals, while beautiful, don’t serve simply to brighten our day, but also are an integral part of creating an enriching environment for the chimps,” who have probably already flung poop at the imitation Peter Max scenery.
“The resident chimps were used in biomedical research and some experienced trauma and suffer from post-traumatic stress from their experiences,” Project Chimps mentioned, without mentioning that part of that experience was spending most of their lives behind bars in concrete cells.
“Not all the resident chimps enjoy the forested yards”
“Not all the resident chimps enjoy the forested yards yet either,” Project Chimps claimed. “Some, like Greg, may sit on a platform near the tunnel to his villa for a little while but he isn’t interested in exploring the 3-acre yards. Others like Gracie, prefer to enjoy the quiet air-conditioned bedroom all by herself while the rest of her group is outside.
“For these chimps that prefer to be indoors more often than not, we thought it was time to decorate their homes.”
Coincidentally, the Project Chimps mural painting bee was publicized just as Their Turn blogger Donny Moss, of New York City, posted an extensive response to Humane Society of the U.S. president Kitty Block about conditions at the sanctuary.
Project Chimps has not made big changes
Moss has since June 2020 extensively exposed alleged deficiencies in Project Chimps housing and animal care, further explored multiple times by ANIMALS 24-7.
(See Why has Project Chimps gone ape$#!T over ex-staff complaints?, HSUS-backed Project Chimps drops lawsuit vs. whistleblowers, and Why 37 chimps “retired” by NIH in 2013 are still not in sanctuaries.)
Summarized Moss, “Project Chimps filed––and ultimately dropped––a lawsuit against former employees Crystal Alba and Lindsay Vanderhooght after they came forward publicly with evidence of animal cruelty.”
But Project Chimps did not make the changes in Project Chimps leadership, facilities, and operations that Alba, Vanderhooght, and Moss demanded, even after an evaluation by experts hired by the also-HSUS-funded Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries found essentially the same deficiencies.
Opened Block, “HSUS has clearly communicated that we agree with Project Chimps’ longstanding plan to build out its facilities and staff to support more time in outdoor habitat space for all the chimps at the sanctuary, and that we’ll be directing our future financial support of the sanctuary toward those priority needs.
“We hope,” Block said, “that as the previous challenges of weather and COVID wane, better circumstances will allow Project Chimps to begin build-out efforts in the near future. In the meantime, we’ve confirmed repeatedly––with both independent and internal sources who are most familiar with the sanctuary’s work––that the chimpanzees are receiving good medical care and ample enrichment.
“HSUS continues to provide Project Chimps with significant financial backing,” Block acknowledged, “as we’ve done since the sanctuary’s inception. The sanctuary also needs to develop more independent support,” Block added, “in order to maintain and improve its facilities and program of care,” a possible veiled warning that HSUS sponsorship may not be as generous in the future as in previous multi-million-dollar commitments.
“Pleased that HSUS acknowledges need for new yards”
Project Chimps operates on an annual budget of about $3 million, according to IRS Form 990. IRS Form 990 filings show that the Humane Society of the U.S. has in recent years transferred $2,566,145 in cash to Project Chimps, issued $1,008,979 in program grants to Project Chimps, and paid $106,783 in salaries for Project Chimps-related work.
“We’re disappointed,” Block finished, “to see these continuing attacks on the sanctuary,” as without Project Chimps, Block said, the resident chimpanzees “would still be in a lab.”
Replied Moss, “The organizations and activists advocating on behalf of these chimps are pleased that HSUS is finally acknowledging the need to create new yards so that the chimps have access to the outdoors every day.”
But Moss rebutted just about everything else Block said.
Can see but not touch
“Until now,” Moss recalled, “HSUS has dismissed our concerns about the long stretches of confinement by falsely claiming that the chimps have access to the outdoors every day on porches. The porches, however, are concrete rooms with metal bars through which chimps can merely see the outdoors. HSUS further deceives the public and its donors by posting photos that give the impression that the chimpanzees spend their days in a lush outdoor habitat.
“The chimpanzees at HSUS sanctuary Project Chimps have access to the outdoors just once every three days for a few hours,” Moss elaborated, “but the facility’s social media pages would lead the public to believe that they spend seven days a week in the habitat.
While Block attributed “delays in creating new outdoor habitats to COVID and bad weather,” Moss pointed out, “the chimpanzees have been living without sufficient outdoor space for six years.
Project Chimps built hiking trails for tourists
“Further,” Moss asked, “if Project Chimps was able to build hiking trails for tourists during the pandemic,” as Project Chimps social media postings described and illustrated, “why couldn’t it create yards for the chimps?
“Sanctuaries are not zoos,” Moss emphasized. “They are supposed to prioritize the needs of the animals, not amenities for tourists.”
In fairness, building hiking trails requires much less labor, equipment, and material investment than building escape-proof chimpanzee exercise yards. Trail-building could be done with small crews while the COVID-19 pandemic kept construction companies from assembling enough personnel to build much of anything.
But, Moss charged on, “If advocates hadn’t exposed that Project Chimps was warehousing these chimps instead of providing them with a true sanctuary, then HSUS would not be acknowledging the need to ‘begin build-out efforts in the near future.’ It would still be suing the whistleblowers who publicly exposed this gross deficiency in the first place.”
Why are more than 100 chimps still at New Iberia lab?
Moss particularly objected to Block’s allegation that “the chimps ‘would still be in a lab without Project Chimps.’”
On the contrary, Moss responded, “More than a hundred chimps are STILL in a lab because of HSUS’s failure to create a true sanctuary environment.
“A contract between New Iberia Research Center and HSUS stipulates that all of the chimps [at the University of Louisiana research facility] will be sent to Project Chimps,” Moss reminded, but the New Iberia Research Center has stopped sending chimps because HSUS is not fulfilling its obligation to provide them with a true sanctuary.
“HSUS is not enforcing own standards”
“If HSUS hired a veterinarian and care staff with chimpanzee experience and modified the yards to increase time outdoors (while creating new yards), then the New Iberia Research Center would be able to send the remaining chimpanzees to Project Chimps,” Moss said.
“We will continue to be a voice for the 77 chimps until HSUS transforms Project Chimps into a true sanctuary that meets the standards set by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries,” Moss pledged.
“Normally, the Global Federation of Animals Sanctuaries, not activists,” Moss said, “would ensure that accredited sanctuaries are treating their animals humanely. However, because GFAS was created by and is in part funded, by HSUS, it is not enforcing its own standards at Project Chimps. The chimpanzees are victims of this conflict of interest.”
HSUS “Statement on Project Chimps”
Block’s statement was accompanied by a more formal “Statement on Project Chimps” in which the Humane Society of the U.S. acknowledged the recent “expert scrutiny of Dr. Steve Ross of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes.”
The Ross report, HSUS summarized, “praised the spaces the chimps enjoy at Project Chimps, noting that they are ‘broadly exceeding those used to house chimpanzees elsewhere,’ though with the caveat that ‘a substantial drawback of the space was the relatively limited access to the outdoor yards.’”
Continued the HSUS statement, “The assessment noted some specific areas to focus on, including deepening veterinary resources and expertise (including possibly adding clinic staff as the chimp population grows), increased attention to behavioral monitoring to assess welfare, and further development of the existing positive reinforcement training program.”
“Abuse” is a judgement call
Contended the Humane Society of the U.S. statement, however, “This independent assessment—and the one performed by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries before it—confirms that allegations of ‘abuse’ at Project Chimps are profoundly off the mark,” even though the Ross observations were largely the same as those voiced by Alba, Vanderhooght, and Moss.
But the Ross and Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries evaluations, HSUS acknowledged, “also signaled that there were areas where Project Chimps would do well to make some upgrades.”
The Humane Society of the U.S. statement said “Many of these [needed upgrades] have already been prioritized and implemented,” mentioning that Project Chimps had “hired a full-time veterinarian with chimpanzee experience. Unfortunately,” HSUS admitted, “in March  that veterinarian left the sanctuary due to a medical emergency, so Project Chimps is again seeking a permanent replacement.
“In the meantime, their long-time veterinarian has returned, and the sanctuary also has direct access to several other experienced chimpanzee veterinarians as consultants.”
Coincidentally, the Atlanta Jewish Times and Times of Israel on March 25, 2021 profiled the work of Atlanta pediatric urologist Andrew Kirsch and his wife, psychiatrist Susan Kirsch at Project Chimps.
“Andrew Kirsch agreed to recruit and oversee an expanded team of physicians and surgeons,” the Atlanta Jewish Times and Times of Israel said, “while serving alongside a group of surgical care team consultants.
“In addition to urology, the surgical team represents orthopedics, gynecology, general surgery, plastic surgery and more.”