Monday, September 1, 2014

What happens to baby pet chimp when he becomes a strong adult?

When I first heard of the blog about Aya Katz and her pet chimp, Bow, I was angry and disgusted. People who keep great apes in their homes and raise them to be not-apes make my blood boil. But as I learned more about Ms. Katz’s situation, my anger turned to sadness. This is a disaster waiting to happen, and there’s nothing I can do to prevent it.

Aya has evidently been blogging about her experience raising a Bow for a number of years. She writes children's books, including one that, based on the Amazon reviews, is encouraging other mothers to buy a primate for their kids. How does someone arrive at a life decision to buy a pet chimpanzee and encourage others to do the same? At one point, Aya was a practicing attorney in Grand Prairie, Texas, but according to her online bio, she left the law and became a linguist. Somewhere along the line, she started calling herself a primatologist – although she doesn’t cite any formal education in primatology. (I guess a chimp owner could consider oneself “home schooled.”)

Aya Katz holds baby Bow at the breeder's place, while another young chimp and Aya's daughter look on.
Project ChimpCare estimates that there are more than 50 chimpanzees with private breeders and in private homes across the United States. I’m sure that every single one of the owners think they know better than real primatologists, that they will shower so much love on their little chimp that it will never harm them or try to escape or harm others. I’m sure Aya never thinks that Bow will harm her or anyone else, not even when he is 20 years old with hormones raging, and has five times the strength of a man. Bow will never turn into a rampaging Travis, tearing off the face of his owner’s best friend. Bow will never be like Buddy, escaping his cage and getting gunned down on a neighborhood street. Bow won’t become one of a line of dead pet chimps.

Aya says she bought Bow in 2002, which means he is at least 12 years old now. Aya is in her 50s. So what does she have planned for Bow? After all, as a “primatologist,” Aya must know that chimpanzees can live 50 years or more, and will always be dependent 24/7 on a human caregiver. What has Aya planned for Bow’s next 40 years?

“We are still getting along just fine. And I think we will continue to get along when he is an adult,” Aya writes, optimistically, in her blog. “But the question for me is how to prepare for the day when Bow no longer has me to rely on. And any solution I choose, I believe needs to be a solution that is not just good for Bow, but for ten generations into the future.”

Looking ten generations ahead is great. But what about THIS generation? What is going to happen to this specific chimpanzee?

Aya evidently doesn’t want the assistance of a sanctuary, “because the funding for [sanctuaries] comes from people who have no real interest in chimpanzees and who are largely committed to ending the existence of chimpanzees outside the continent of Africa.” So, we can establish the fact that she is abysmally ignorant about the tens of thousands of people who give up their own money to help support chimpanzees that are not theirs. Chimps just like Bow.

She “hopes” that Bow will have children of his own. How does that happen, when he is stuck in a private home, alone in his cage?

Is she going to want to put him in a zoo? I don’t know of any accredited zoo that will take a discarded pet chimpanzee who hasn’t been with his own species since he was grabbed from his mother’s arms to be sold to someone like Aya. But perhaps there is a roadside zoo where Bow can sit in his rusty cage and get teased by rowdy customers. That is one of the few options left, because Aya knows the breeder won’t take him back. In her blog post, she explains that when she first bought Bow the breeder wanted to make sure “that you won't bail out when the going gets tougher.”

We know that it is going to get tougher. It always does. And chimpanzee owners need to bail – regardless of what the breeder says as she takes the check.

There are few ways out, and Aya has closed the door to them. This is going to have a sad ending.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Chimp photo represents plight of apes in entertainment

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.  --Aristotle
Art4Apes is holding its 2nd annual ENDANGERED Art& Photography contest, to benefit the wonderful Center for Great Apes. I’m not an artist, but I have a couple of the photographs that my father took with his Kodak camera back in 1950, when he was a chimp trainer at the Detroit Zoo. Even though I am not eligible to compete for the money prize (since I am not the photographer), the organizers were kind enough to accept the photo. I believe it represents the plight of apes in entertainment.



Jo was one of more than a hundred chimps who were stolen from murdered mothers' arms in Africa, destined for short entertainment careers with the Detroit Zoo’s long-running Chimp Show. The trainers would use violent techniques – pinching, slapping, and punching – to show the chimpanzees "who was boss." Jo Mendi II was that era's only chimpanzee to remain at the Detroit Zoo beyond the first seven or eight years of cuteness. Most of the others were dumped into research or breeding facilities.

Dad was one of the trainers who abused the chimps. He was fired when he finally went too far and threw a young chimpanzee against the wall. It seems fitting, then, to use Dad’s photo of Jo ‒ showing the anthropomorphic costume, the gray desolation, and the shadows of the bars ‒ to educate people about the abuse and exploitation of these marvelous chimpanzees.

The Detroit Zoo stopped putting clothes on its chimps in the mid-1980s. The Chimp Shows stopped. Unfortunately, as demonstrated by Leonardo DiCaprio's despicable use of a chimp in a recent movie, the exploitation of apes in entertainment continues today.    

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Using Koko to exploit the death of Robin Williams

The Gorilla Foundation says this is Koko lamenting
the death of Robin Williams. Former caregivers point
out that this is her everyday funk.
I see that Penny Patterson is now exploiting Robin Williams’ death to promote her Gorilla Foundation. It’s one thing to recirculate a video taken more than a decade ago, when Robin met Koko, if the point is to pay tribute to a good man. It is quite another thing, however, to take pictures of Koko in her everyday funk and tell gullible media – who are searching for ANY new angle on the Williams story – that Koko is so terribly sad about the death of a human she met more than ten years ago. Naturally, ape lovers who don’t know better will give $$ to Koko in honor of Robin. And that’s the whole point of this disgusting exploitation, isn’t it Penny?

This week marks a new low for The Gorilla Foundation.

(BTW, if this use of Robin Williams is tempting you to contribute, you might want to review The Gorilla Foundation's rating on Charity Navigator. It has a low rating, only 2 stars. There are better ways to support gorilla conservation and welfare.)

Friday, August 1, 2014

Petition ends for Ndume after pleas by thousands fall on deaf ears

Poor Ndume. Over 3,000 people tried to convince Cincinnati Zoo and the AZA Gorilla SSP to end Ndume's isolation at The Gorilla Foundation, but those efforts have evidently failed. It may be because of the reason that former Ndume caregiver John Safkow wrote: "He's too screwed up for a zoo." Decades of living in a trailer can do that to a silverback.
Ndume gets junky "enrichment" on his birthday.

Recently, the zoo's public relations department started sending FB critics a message asserting, despite voluminous first-hand evidence to the contrary, that Ndume was receiving enrichment and socialization at TGF, and was in daily contact with Koko.

We know that Ndume and Koko do not, in fact, come into daily contact. They don't have any physical contact, period. And enrichment? The "enrichment" activities are enough to drive any silverback crazy, if you ask me. On "sock day," caregivers tie socks with nuts and treats inside. On "box day" Ndume gets treats inside cereal or other food boxes.  On "clothing day," Ndume gets articles of old clothing stuffed with nuts and treats. On "pill bottle day" (caregivers say they always had hundreds if not thousands on hand from all of Koko's required pill popping), caregivers would put nuts and treats in pill bottles and scatter them in the yard. Then there was the glorious "scatter day" with bare stuff placed around the outdoor enclosure. If that is "enrichment," then I'm a monkey's uncle.

Over a month ago, I asked the Gorilla SSP if they agreed with the zoo's assertions. I asked if they had withdrawn the recommendation in the draft gorilla management plan that called for the zoo to bring Ndume back into the zoo population. Still no answer.



In recognition of reality, I have ended the petition calling on the Cincinnati Zoo to bring Ndume out of his isolation. If Ndume is too far gone for integration back into normal zoo populations, and there are no gorilla sanctuaries in the U.S., then it looks like he'll have many, many more "pill bottle days" at TGF. I'm sure he appreciates the enrichment.   

Sunday, July 6, 2014

More questions about Iowa bonobo management

Noted ape researcher Frans de Waal posted an update on his public Facebook page, noting that “Kanzi is a language-trained bonobo at the Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative (ACCI) in Iowa.” I also referred to the latest incarnation in Iowa as ACCI, but Frans' post got me wondering (again) about what is going on in Iowa.

I checked the USDA APHIS lists for anything on ACCI. Nothing. Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary – Great Ape Trust – Bonobo Hope (yes, the federal government uses all three names) is still listed as Kanzi’s owner.


I checked the IRS listing of charitable organizations for anything on ACCI. Nothing. IPLS is registered, however.



Frans also stated that “Bill Hopkins, the new director (together with Jared Taglialatela), sends me an updated photograph of Kanzi, who has lost 20 Kg (44 pounds) in the last 6 months. BTW - The dessert contest was not their idea.”

The Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary has a Facebook page, active as of this weekend. It lists Steve Boers as director, not Bill Hopkins. That may explain why “the new director” was not able to stop the use of Kanzi in a public relations stunt: because he isn’t the director of the organization that owns and manages the bonobos?



Once again, there are more questions than answers about what the hell is happening in Iowa. I'd love to celebrate progress evidently reported by Yerkes scientists de Waal and Bill Hopkins, and Yerkes research associate Jared Taglialatela, as many are, but I'm concerned that they may not have much say-so, besides changing Kanzi's dietary regime. Who is actually in charge? And why can't the organization stay with one friggin' name? 

(And where is Sue Savage-Rumbaugh? I can’t believe she is sitting idly by…)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

No Dignity in Asking Kanzi, the 'Ape of Genius,’ to Judge Unhealthy Iowa State Fair Foods

A guest article by Beth Dalbey, a former employee of the Great Ape Trust


One question: Will a scientist with standing be on hand to explain what Kanzis choices mean, or even that he sometimes beats at the glass during visits to show he doesnt suffer fools quietly? Or will the publics understanding be limited to the explanation from a breathless volunteer: "Kanzi loooooves dessert”?

This is a cheap trick to play on a bonobo who blurred the line between human and non-human primates when he acquired language simply by being exposed to it, as human children do, demonstrated an aptitude for stone tool making, and is a precious scientific treasure.

To be mocked and put on display as he eats food that is unhealthy and bad for him is the ultimate indignity to this very dignified bonobo who is self-aware enough to know he is a star.

Instead of exploiting an obese ape with a heart  condition – the biggest concern in the article seems to be that Kanzi will “snarf everything down and then dismiss us” before the photographers can get decent video – the Register might look at four bonobo deaths at the facility since they arrived in Des Moines in 2005.

That includes two in recent years – Matatas two weeks ago and Panbanishas in 2012, which is still shrouded in questions. The public was told Panbanisha died of a “cold,” yet the necropsy report has never seen the light of day, despite the current directors insistence that theyre focused on transparency at the Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative.

After Matata died, the ACCI promised to release the results her necropsy, Theres nothing to suggest this ape in her mid-40s died for any other reason than natural causes, but a history of ape deaths at the facility should at least make reporters curious enough to stop mocking these rare, endangered great apes for humans entertainment long enough to ask questions when some of them die.

While theyre on the subject of deaths in this one-of-a-kind bonobo family – there is no other group like them in the world, and the studies taking place with three generations of bonobos raised in a unique bicultural atmosphere can never be duplicated – they might ask for clarification about Panbanishas death.

The loss of Panbanisha is significant – and a tragedy that may have been preventable.

Like Kanzi, she also had receptive competence for spoken English and many scientists considered her “the true ape of genius,” despite that moniker more often being assigned to Kanzi. She was a complex individual and elegant in her ability to manipulate situations to get what she wanted. There was always a “maybe” in Panbanishas response to requests.

If Panbanisha did die of a cold, as the public has been told, did veterinarians rule out as a possible factor young Tecos well documented travels around the city, where he was pictured on social media in public settings that included a large auditorium that hosted the Buddha Relics tour? What are the odds that the guests there were asked to wear masks or provide proof theyd had flu shots and had passed TB tests, common protocol when sharing the same air space as apes, who are vulnerable to human respiratory ailments?

Intellectually curious reporters might ask if the scientific mission has changed.

Is ACCI still focused on the same non-invasive language collaborations these valuable research apes have been involved in throughout their lives?

Or will scientists Bill Hopkins and Jared Taglialatela begin “knocking down” apes with anesthesia, ensuring they dont move during invasive brain imaging (MRIs)? Do they share documented concerns in the veterinary community that certain anesthetic protocols may exacerbate or artificially induce signs of cardiac disease?

As part of ACCI’s claimed conservation mission, do Hopkins, Taglialatela, Steve Boer, Tami Watson and others associated with the ACCI have concerns that using apes in entertainment perpetuates not only the notion that great apes are ours to mock and profit from, but also the misconception that they are common and ordinary, and not a blink away from extinction?

Apparently not. Please call this off.

Failing that, will Kanzi at least get a lousy Size 3X Des Moines Register/Iowa State Fair T-shirt out of the deal?

If they must do this, the architects of this travesty should at least have Kanzi judge fresh fruits and vegetables, foods that are actually good for him.

Oh, and to give Kanzi back some of his dignity, the people who cooked this publicity stunt should be streamed live over the Internet eating ape chow so we can all sit back and laugh and jeer as they point at their favorites.

(Full disclosure: I worked as an editor in the communications department at the former Great Ape Trust from 2007-2010. For the record, if I'd suggested something like this, I probably would have been fired – for good reason.)