The race to save the abandoned chimps of ‘Monkey Island’

CityNews reports on Liberian chimps who’ve survived medical experiments, Ebola and starvation

It’s been called the real Planet of the Apes. A series of six islands off the coast of West Africa, inhabited solely by former research chimpanzees. The primates have survived decades of invasive experiments, two civil wars, and even Ebola. Now, their lives have again been put in danger.

CityNews reporter Avery Haines travelled 8,000 kilometres by airplane, car and boat to remote Liberia to visit a now-abandoned research facility and the so-called “Monkey Island.”

“I had heard about these chimpanzee’s being ‘retired’ on these islands some time ago, but was shocked to discover the latest threat to their lives,” Haines said.

The threat this time is not experiments, not war, not disease—but starvation.

It’s a story that begins back in the 1970s, when a U.S.-based research lab, the New York Blood Center, decided to set up shop in Liberia, trapping wild chimpanzees and infecting them with diseases like hepatitis and “river blindness” to develop vaccines.

After more than 40 years of experiments, the New York Blood Center ended its Liberian project in 2005. The surviving chimpanzees were left on a series of islands with no food or water. The caretakers, many of whom have worked with the chimps for decades, were paid to feed them food and water every other day. Then, at the height of the Ebola crisis last year, the New York Blood Center quietly decided to stop paying the caretakers. The chimpanzees began starving to death.

More recently, the Humane Society of the United States has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the abandoned chimps, and continues to pressure the New York Blood Center to live up to it’s financial obligation.

In this 14-minute documentary, Haines takes you to the haunting research facility and the islands where dozens of chimps continue to live.

“This isn’t a story about big, bad researchers. It’s not even a story about the humane society coming to the rescue. More than anything, it’s about a few Liberian caretakers who have risked their lives again and again to protect the chimpanzees they’ve been caring for.”

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