Q: Why did the New York Blood Center stop its support for the Liberian chimpanzees?
A: NYBC ended all research on non-human primates more than 10 years ago. NYBC never owned the animals, the land or the facilities. Nevertheless, after ending our research, NYBC voluntarily supported the sanctuary for more than seven years, even though we had no obligation to do so. We decided to support the sanctuary on a charitable basis until the Government of Liberia could take over. We attempted for more than five years to find a solution for the care, maintenance and feeding of these animals, holding discussions with numerous animal welfare groups and the Liberian government, all to no avail. No one stepped up, and eventually we informed the Liberians that we could no longer provide this charitable support and gave them advance notice to ensure a smooth transition. The Government of Liberia and animal rights organizations knew all along that our support was voluntary and would end, yet they did nothing to ensure the ongoing care of these animals.
NYBC’s mission is to save lives here in the United States—indeed, we save thousands of lives each year through blood and blood-related products and services such as bone marrow and stem cell transplants. NYBC’s serves more than 20 million people in the New York metropolitan area—and more broadly, our nation and our world—by alleviating human suffering and preserving human life.
Q: What about the health of the chimpanzees? Are they being cared for?
A: The sanctuary is now being maintained by the Humane Society of the US and Humane Society International, along with a coalition of a large number of other organizations. The chimpanzees were well fed and cared for during the entire time NYBC voluntarily supported the sanctuary, and reports indicate they are currently being fed and cared for and are in good health.
Q: Doesn't NYBC have a moral responsibility to care for these chimpanzees?
A: NYBC’s responsibility is to our blood donors, hospitals and patients here in the New York area and throughout the United States. Thanks to NYBC’s efforts, thousands of lives are saved each year through the provision of blood and blood-related products. Any resources diverted from these efforts have a substantial cost. Put another way: Who should be denied a lifesaving blood transfusion because our resources have been diverted to other efforts? Who shouldn’t receive a bone-marrow transplant? A life-saving stem cell treatment? We recognize that there are other organizations better suited to funding and supporting the Liberian’s sanctuary and encourage them to step up. We believe it is a worthwhile mission for those who raise funds for this type of thing — indeed, it is one we undertook for seven years despite having no obligation to do so. But our obligations, moral and otherwise, are to the thousands of human lives we save each year in the United States, and in these tough times for blood centers nationally, we cannot waver from this mission.
Q: Didn’t Alfred Prince, the director of the facility, pledge to take care of these chimpanzees for life?
A: Dr. Prince was an employee of NYBC, but he made statements that were his own opinions and not authorized or approved by NYBC. Regarding the two isolated statements being circulated in media: One was more than 20 years old, and the other was in a job posting that specifically pointed out that outside foundation support was needed for the sanctuary. As mentioned, the Government of Liberia and numerous animal right organizations knew all along that our support was entirely voluntary and could not continue.
Q: Didn't NYBC make profits off these chimps?
A: No. NYBC is a not-for-profit organization. Proceeds NYBC receives as a result of our research are reinvested in further research and discovery—and in the provision of blood and blood-related products and services that save thousands of lives each year.
Q: Who benefited from our research?
A: More than one million people whose lives were saved through the low-cost Hepatitis B vaccine, along with those who received vaccines for the SARS and MERS virus, those whose lives have been saved through the development of stem cell therapies, patients with hemophilia and AIDS, accident victims, burn patients and cancer patients who benefit from our products and services in healthcare facilities here in the United States. That is why we believe our focus needs to be within our local community… where we are saving lives every day.
Q: How did NYBC become involved in Liberia?
A: NYBC contracted with the Government of Liberia and established hepatitis research laboratories and a chimpanzee colony in 1974. It is estimated that the low-cost, widely distributed Hepatitis B vaccine developed as a result of this research saved millions of human lives. NYBC significantly upgraded the 120-acre facility, establishing electric and water service, among other improvements. These facilities were made available by the Liberians to the United States government to help Liberians fight the Ebola epidemic over the last several years. NYBC ceased all testing on primates in 2004, and NYBC’s contractual relationship with the Liberian Institute of Biomedical Research (LIBR) ended in June 2007. Since that time, NYBC provided financial and operational support to the sanctuary on a voluntary basis.
Q: Why is NYBC in arbitration with Liberia, and is this part of that case?
A: Several years ago, Liberia decided to launch an arbitration related to the decades-old agreements we had with the organization—even as we were supporting their chimp sanctuary with NYBC funding. As this is a matter in active arbitration, we cannot comment on the specifics of the dispute, except to say that we are confident we will prevail.