Breaking: Activist Donny Moss Talks 66 Abandoned Chimps & NYBC Protests

Not familiar enough with this issue? Read our initial coverage here

Nearly five months ago, the New York Blood Center ceased funding the care of 66 chimpanzees, animals they had exploited and tested on for decades. This decision, which has left the chimps to fend for themselves, ignited a firestorm amongst animals rights advocates around the world. At the epicenter of this movement is Donny Moss, creator of Their Turn, who leads the grassroots, on-the-ground campaign in New York City.

Donny Moss & fellow activists stage disruption inside New York Blood Center. Source: Their Turn.

Donny Moss & fellow activists stage disruption inside New York Blood Center. Source: Their Turn.

We caught up with Donny to talk about upcoming protests and actions, as well as, his thoughts on this whole ordeal: 

Tomorrow, August 4th, you’re going to hold the third home demonstration for NYBC chairman Howard Milstein. Why is it so important that people participate in these protests?

Howard Milstein doesn’t want people in front of his building informing his neighbors that he is responsible for the decision to abandon 66 chimpanzees, leaving them to starve to death after promising to provide them with lifelong care. If being publicly exposed and compromising his legacy don’t persuade him to do the right thing, then perhaps his co-op [housing] board will. After all, the people who run his building don’t want their residents to be disturbed by ongoing protests.

We are also protesting in front of Howard Milstein’s home to remind him that while he lives large on Park Avenue and in the Hamptons, the chimpanzees who earned his organization $500 million are on the verge of starving.

Are you planning on protesting other members of the board, as well? 

We intend to stage protests against other Blood Center board members because they too are accountable for the decision to abandon the chimps, who have suffered so much already.

A new campaign has been announced — donating blood to blood centers around the country, in solidarity with these chimpanzees and in boycott of the New York Blood Center. What are your thoughts on this form of protest? 

Blood is liquid gold to the New York Blood Center. Their blood donors donate it for free, and [NYBC] turns around and sells it to their customers. I believe that people should donate blood; I just encourage them to do it elsewhere. By further enriching the New York Blood Center, which earned $500 million in royalties off of the research conducted on these chimps, aren’t we rewarding them for their horrific behavior? 

Christopher HiIllyer, the President & CEO of the NY Blood Center earns over $1.2 million dollars a year in salary. Other senior executives make hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is a wealthy organization with hundreds of millions of dollars in assets, funded by some of the biggest corporations in the country.  It has the resources to provide lifelong care to the chimps who are totally dependent on humans for sustenance and who the Blood Center relocated to islands with no natural food and water.

Activits demand Howard Milstein do the right thing. Source: Their Turn.

Activits demand Howard Milstein do the right thing. Source: Their Turn.

What has the NY Blood Center said publicly regarding the decision to cut care for their former lab chimps?

In response to media inquiries, the NY Blood Center has provided a statement which says that the government of Liberia owns the chimps and is responsible for their care. They do not address the fact that they are the ones who captured the chimps in the wild; kidnapped them from their families; bred them in captivity; held them prisoner and conducted experiments on them for 30 years; made them dependent on humans; moved them to islands with no natural food and water and made public promises to provide them with lifelong care.  How could they possibly think that the public would accept their decision to shift responsibility for the care of these chimps to the Liberian government, which is reeling from an Ebola epidemic.

In a recent story about the chimps, Vice reported that Liberia’s annual Gross Domestic Product is $2 billion dollars. That’s not a lot when you consider that the New York Blood Center earns approximately [sic] $300 million dollars a year.

Even if the government of Liberia did step forward and claim responsibility, how can we be sure that they will provide them with proper care for the rest of their lives? As Jane Goodall stated, it is the Blood Center’s “moral responsibility” to pay for the care of these chimps. They cannot shift that responsibility to anyone else. 

What are the next steps for these chimps?

A coalition of organizations with great ape experience is working to find a permanent solution, such as relocating them to an existing sanctuary. At the moment, they are living on six islands in Liberia, and volunteers deliver food once a day. In a proper sanctuary, these battered chimps would receive multiple daily feedings, medical care and individualized attention based on need.

In the meantime, the emergency funds to care for the chimps are running out. If the NY Blood Center doesn’t step in to provide monthly funding or establish an endowment, the chimps could starve to death. Can you imagine how the world will react to video footage of NY Blood Center chimps stumbling around as they die of starvation?

You also recently announced a new protest, to take place at Cipriani on November 5th — the date of the New York Blood Center fundraising gala. Tell us more about that.

When I learned that the Blood Center was holding its 50th Anniversary fundraising gala at Cipriani, an upscale event space, I went to the venue in person to attempt to persuade them to cancel the event. The event planner with whom I met seemed genuinely horrified by the Blood Center’s actions after she read Jane Goodall’s statement about the scandal, but she didn’t follow up, as promised. Dozens of activists subsequently called Cipriani, but they have yet to cancel the event. Cipriani appears to have decided that the amount of money they will earn from renting the space outweighs the public relations fallout from holding the event. 

On November 5th, the date of the NYBC fundraiser, we are staging a protest and press conference at Cipriani. We are announcing that now publicly because advocates are flying in from out of town to participate. 

Some pretty high-profile names have spoken out against the Blood Center…

Jane Goodall regularly posts about the scandal on social media. I don’t know what plans she has to hold NYBC accountable, but she is going to great lengths to educate her supporters about the situation.

In April, over 2,000 people, including me, went to see Dr. Goodall speak at a theater in NYC. Her fans were so intoxicated by the lecture that you could hear a pin drop. Many of these people, along with the media, would rally behind her if she publicly issued a call to action. Does the NYBC really want to get on the bad side of one of the most beloved people in the world? 

Protestors outside of Howard Milstein's apartment. Source: Their Turn.

Protestors outside of Howard Milstein's apartment. Source: Their Turn.

The world is in collective mourning over Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe. Do you see any correlation between that tragedy and this mass abandonment?

Walter Palmer, the hunter who killed Cecil, could have never predicted that his story would go viral and dominate the airwaves for days. Similarly, I suspect that the Blood Center didn’t see the backlash surrounding its decision to abandon the chimps. As advocates, our job is to ensure that the public is aware of what New York Blood Center has done and holds the organization accountable for its crime.

For now, the Blood Center is digging in its heels. Perhaps the executives don’t want to admit that they’ve done something terribly wrong. Or perhaps they believe that managing the public relations fall out is less costly than paying for the care of the chimps.

On another note, I would be surprised if NYBC’s board members would want this shameful scandal to tarnish their legacies. Already, the abandonment of the chimps is prominently addressed on the Blood Center’s wikipedia page. The longer this scandal festers, the greater the chance that these individuals will have their reputations compromised by their own greed. 

We suspect that the Blood Center is “waiting it out,” hoping that we will give up or move on to the next issue. That is not going to happen. In fact, our plan is to expand our campaign. MetLife, one of the Blood Center’s biggest donors, is located in Midtown Manhattan. We have contacted management, but they have been unresponsive.  Its employees are probably unaware of the controversy, even though they regularly donate blood to NYBC. That’s where we come in.

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