The New York Blood Center, in partnership with the Liberian government, funded hepatitis research and other medical studies at the Liberian Institute for Biomedical Research beginning in 1974.
When the blood center decided 10 years ago to discontinue chimp research at the Vilab II facilities near Monrovia, it continued to pay for upkeep of the primates, which were set free to roam on several nearby islands.
In January, the blood center gave the institute notice that it would no longer pay to care for the animals, and in March, the organization pulled funding, which sent the institute scrambling for resources to keep feeding them.
"NYBC's support of the chimpanzees was entirely voluntary, offered on a philanthropic basis to permit discussions regarding Liberia's need to fulfill their responsibilities until the Government of Liberia could take over," the center said in a statement on its website
. "The Government of Liberia and animal rights organizations knew all along that our support was voluntary and could not continue."
Not so, say animal rights groups and the head of the Liberian Institute for Biomedical Research, who contend that the blood center has reneged on its obligation to care for the animals throughout their lives. The animals are being "left to die from starvation in retirement," Fatorma Bolay, who runs the research institute, told Front Page Africa Online
"It is appalling that the New York Blood Center is trying to wipe its hands of any responsibility for this colony of chimpanzees that they created and used for their own profit," Kathleen Conlee, vice president of animal research issues at the Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement
The animals would never have been used by the Liberian facility in testing if not for the funding and partnership of the blood center, Conlee told CNN.
The center, which declined to comment on the situation beyond pointing to statements on its website, is in arbitration with the Liberian government over care of the chimpanzees.
While the center claims it tried to no avail to work with the Liberian government and animal rights groups to generate a new funding source for the chimps, the Humane Society says the blood center will not respond to its recent efforts to partner up.
The Humane Society is now collaborating with the Liberian Institute for Biomedical Research to care for the animals.
The 64 chimps, who cannot swim, are confined to several mangrove islands in the Farmington River that lack appropriate natural food resources. Vice magazine filmed a 2014 documentary
on the chimpanzees and the Vilab II project in the area, which locals call "Monkey Island."
Some of the animals were caught in the wild to be used for medical testing, while others were purchased after being kept as pets. Having spent most of their lives in captivity, the chimps are not suitable to live in the wild and will need care and feeding for years to come.
Private donors and animal protection groups have stepped in to fill the gap after New York Blood Center funding dried up.
The Humane Society started a Go Fund Me campaign
with a $150,000 goal, which has been surpassed, as a stopgap to feed the animals temporarily in hopes that the blood center would eventually resume support. But that hasn't happened, and the Humane Society is making plans to further care for the animals.
The organization is sending a team to the area in three weeks, Conlee said, to outline a plan to make th