The Current

Chimpanzees left to starve in retirement from medical research

They were subject to medical experiments in Liberia for decades, but now, in their golden years, the funds have dried up for their caretaking. We hear from some of the people who are giving these forgotten chimps a voice.
The chimpanzees were used in medical experiments in Liberia for nearly 30 years. The New York Blood Centre provided for the chimps' caretaking in the years since then, until this past March, when that funding stopped. (Vice Motherboard)

These chimps are retirees...of sorts. They were used in medical experiments, in Liberia, for the non-profit New York Blood Center for nearly 30 years, until research stopped there in the early 2000s.

The Blood Center provided for the chimps' caretaking in the years since then, until this past March, when that funding stopped. Some groups have stepped in to help for now, but the chimps' future is imperilled without a long-term solution — they have no source of food or water without the caretakers' support. 

To find out more about the situation, we hear from three guests:

  • Betsy Brotman was a longtime employee for the New York Blood Centre in Liberia.
  • Shawn Sweeney is the Director of Community Engagement at the Jane Goodall Institute. 
  • Gloria Grow is Founder and Director of Fauna Foundation, a Canadian non-profit chimpanzee sanctuary. 

The Topham family lived in Liberia from 1976-80. They lived near LIBR (Liberian Institute for Biomedical Research) and Vilab, and for two years looked after a young chimp named Evelyn. In 2010, the two brothers, Jeff and Andrew, returned to Liberia to make a documentary — Liberia '77 — and discovered that many of the research chimps were still alive and well on a series of islands in the local river delta, being fed with funding from the New York Blood Centre, who had used the chimps for research. Now, with the funding discontinued, the chimps' future is uncertain. 

A selection of Jeff and Andrew's photos: 

All photos courtesy of Jeff and Andrew Topham. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Shannon Higgins. 

Related: Listen to Michael Enright's essay: "Should animals have rights similar to human rights?"