Liberia’s ‘Planet of the Apes’ chimps facing starvation

(By Afp)

A speedboat laden with fruit approaches and four chimpanzees come bounding over from the dense forest, screeching excitedly as volunteers throw them pineapple and mango chunks.

The apes are part of a colony of former research lab captives enjoying retirement uncaged on an atoll deep in the jungle of southern Liberia, known as Monkey Island.

The only significant inhabitants of the six islets, the chimps have been living an idyllic existence, fed by human volunteers on their very own 'Planet of the Apes' — a nickname given to the archipelago by local media.

But the colony of 66 chimps has been at the centre of an international storm since the New York-based blood bank funding it announced in March it was stopping the cash.

The New York Blood Center (NYBC), which carried out about 30 years of biomedical research on the animals, had publicly committed to their lifelong care after they were retired in 2005.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is supporting the colony through emergency fundraising as the Liberian government and the blood bank lock horns over who should be responsible for their care.

"NYBC may believe that people will forget and that this will go away, but I can assure you that it won't," HSUS vice-president Kathleen Conlee told AFP in an email from Washington DC.

"They are absolutely responsible for the long-term care of these chimpanzees."

Conlee described the chimps' care costs — estimated at $30,000 (27,000 euros) a month — as "a mere drop in the bucket for this organisation that has hundreds of millions in revenue annually".

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