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A dispute over the fate of more than 60 chimpanzees in Liberia has been settled, according to the New York Blood Center, which used the animals for biomedical research before leaving them on remote river islands, and the Humane Society of the United States, which has been their primary caretaker since 2015.
In a statement, the two organizations said Tuesday that the blood center had agreed to provide $6 million to the Humane Society, which will assume responsibility for the chimps for the rest of their lives — a job the animal protection group had, for all practical purposes, already taken on. Humane Society president and chief executive Wayne Pacelle said in an e-mail that the sum, which will be invested, amounts to a “splitting of the costs” of housing, food and medical care that are expected to total about $17 million over time.
The agreement ends a bitter controversy over what obligations the center had to chimpanzees it used in tests that helped to develop a hepatitis B vaccine and safer blood transfusions for humans. That research began in the mid-1970s and lasted until 2006, when the blood center pulled out of Liberia and moved its 66 remaining primates to estuary islands. For almost a decade, the center supplied the animals with food and clean water, which aren’t available on the islands.
The center withdrew funding in 2015, saying the chimps were the responsibility of the impoverished Liberian government, which at the time was lurching through an Ebola epidemic.
The Humane Society has since headed up the care of the chimpanzees, at what it says is a cost of about $30,000 a month. The blood center, meanwhile, has been the target of public protests over its treatment of the chimps, as well as criticism from some of its corporate backers. Most recently, IBM said this month that it had suspended support for the center’s blood drives in New York until it had implemented “a long-term solution” for the animals, the youngest of which could live for 40 more years.
In the statement, the blood center’s president and CEO, Christopher D. Hillyer, said the agreement “allows the NYBC to focus on its mission of providing stem cell and transfusion-related products to the more than 20 million individuals in the greater New York region and throughout the nation and internationally.”
The two organizations said former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, whose foundation had previously given $35,000 to help fund a sanctuary for the chimps, assisted with the negotiations. Pacelle said his group would continue to seek additional donations for the primates, “to make sure these chimpanzees know only human kindness for the remainder of their lives.”