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Letter from NhRP President Steven M. Wise re: Hercules and Leo

By Steven Wise

The first anniversary of the offer of Save the Chimps—a spectacular chimpanzee sanctuary in Ft. Pierce, Florida—to accept and maintain our clients, Hercules and Leo, for the rest of their lives, and at no cost to anyone, is upon us.

I wish I could report that these two self-aware, autonomous beings are ending their first year at Save the Chimps happily adapted to a new family group with whom they’ve been living on a large island. But I can’t. The notorious New Iberia Research Center—the owner (read “master”) of these two chimpanzees—has been consistently uncooperative, first with the Nonhuman Rights Project and then with Save the Chimps, to which NIRC made increasingly onerous legal demands that would have interfered with the sanctuary’s operational principles.

NIRC had leased its “property,” Hercules and Leo, to Stony Brook, where, for six years, researchers kept these two young chimpanzees inside, in cages, and deprived them of anything resembling a natural life or a community of other chimpanzees. Worst of all, throughout that time, Stony Brook subjected them to frequent administrations of general anesthesia and thrust fine-wire electrodes into their muscles to conduct locomotion research. Documents the NhRP obtained from Stony Brook reveal that Leo’s heart once stopped while he was under anesthesia, with no veterinarian present. Documents obtained by the NhRP from NIRC reveal that Hercules still has not regained normal use of one of his legs.

One night in December of 2015, eight months after Justice Barbara Jaffe ordered Stony Brook to appear in court to justify Hercules’ and Leo’s detainment and Stony Brook had decided to no longer use them in research, NIRC secretly removed them from their basement cage at Stony Brook and trucked them back to its research facility in Louisiana. This they could do, since they “own” Hercules and Leo.

The NhRP immediately began urging supporters to write to the Governor of Louisiana and the President of the University of Louisiana system, which controls NIRC, to demand that it immediately and unconditionally send Hercules and Leo to Save the Chimps.

In June, NIRC announced that it would move all 220 of its chimpanzees to an uncompleted sanctuary in Fannin County, Georgia named Project Chimps. But NIRC and Project Chimps jointly projected that it would take three to five years to move all 220 chimpanzees. Seeing no reason why Hercules and Leo should have to wait one more day to go to a sanctuary when Save the Chimps remains willing to take them at no cost to NIRC, the NhRP began relentlessly demanding that Project Chimps and NIRC agree to unconditionally and immediately send Hercules and Leo, along with their entire social group if necessary, to Save the Chimps.

Unfortunately, and surprisingly, Project Chimps joined NIRC in refusing to allow Hercules and Leo to be removed to Save the Chimps. The attorney for Project Chimps even forbade the NhRP from communicating with Project Chimps employees. Apparently, Project Chimps does not want Hercules and Leo to go to a sanctuary, but only to their sanctuary, whenever it finally becomes available. That day may not be near.

At this week’s Fannin County Commissioners meeting, the Commissioners voted to table Project Chimp’s application to house exotic animals, Fetch Your News reports. At the meeting, the Commissioners questioned the long-term viability of Project Chimps, as it is being funded by private donations. Perhaps of greater concern, a Fannin County ordinance already provides that no animals who have “ever been involved in any manner in any biomedical research involving a contagion or communicable disease that is still present (in an active or dormant form) … will be allowed to be owned, kept, held, harbored or maintained within Fannin County …” That ordinance likely covers some of the New Iberia chimpanzees.

The NhRP wishes only success for Project Chimps. But not at the expense of Hercules and Leo continuing to languish at NIRC. There is no reason for them to remain another day at a place that has never prioritized their interests. We insist that our clients, Hercules and Leo, have suffered enough, both at Stony Brook and at NIRC. If Project Chimps and NIRC are actually concerned about Hercules and Leo’s well-being, we call on both to agree to immediately and unconditionally send them to Save the Chimps.

The fight to #SaveHerculesandLeo is not yet over, and we need your help. Please join the NhRP’s Call to Action: Send Hercules and Leo to Save the Chimps NOW.


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