Friday, December 28, 2012

Tarzan marks 100 years of unadulterated crap

“Many travelers have seen the drums of the great apes, and some have heard the sounds of their beating and the noise of the wild, weird revelry of these first lords of the jungle, but Tarzan, Lord Greystoke, is, doubtless, the only human being who ever joined in the fierce, mad, intoxicating revel of the Dum-Dum.”
In 1971, Joe Kupart depicted Tarzan
and one of the evil apes.

And thus, generations of young boys and girls were pulled into the false – and amazingly, crudely, racist – narrative of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ seven-foot anthropoids (never called chimpanzees, but distinguished from gorillas) that use their fangs to literally satisfy their lust for blood. Tarzan of the Apes, pulp fiction written without a whit of understanding about apes, became a cultural icon and insinuated itself into the consciousness of an entire century.

No wonder we have so much trouble, today, emerging from the primitive ignorance of the last hundred years. How Hollywood transformed Burroughs’ evil apes into Johnny Wiesmuller’s darling little Cheetah, I will never understand, but after reading Tarzan for the first time this week I appreciate our generational confusion a little better.

Ape advocates constantly voice/post their anger and frustration at the slow pace of change in American attitudes. The exasperation with people who use chimpanzees and orangutans for amusement and entertainment is palpable… and disbelieving. I have shared that aggravation, often completely baffled, wondering how in the world any decent human can condone the exploitation.

Dad kept this photo of Detroit Zoo's
Jo Mendi II, one of the chimps he trained.
But then I glimpse at the photo I have on my wall, of a young Jo Mendi II, staring from the amphitheater facilities at the Detroit Zoo in 1950 during a training session with my dad. Like millions of children, I was entranced by the young chimps performing at zoos, in circuses, on local TV shows. We grew up with a misperception of who they were, what they needed, and, indeed, how their sad fates led them to life (and premature death) in research labs. Even now, unless a person happens across a PETA video or a Humane Society website, the adults those kids grew into probably still harbor false perceptions.

Rex Harrison with Chi-Chi
on the set of Doctor Doolittle
Many of us saw the 1967 version of Doctor Doolittle, with Rex Harrison. While we giggled at the chimpanzee, Chi-Chi, we didn’t realize that trainer Roy Kabat took six months to train Chi-Chi (and her three stand-ins) to cook bacon and eggs in a frying pan. Harrison experienced Chi-Chi’s problems personally. He wrote in his autobiography, A Damned Serious Business: My Life in Comedy, “I know they say 'never work with children or animals', for fear, I suppose, of being upstaged by them. But in this case the animals behaved well in almost all respects – it was the animal trainers who should've been shot." After describing Chi-Chi as “terribly sweet and affectionate,” he explains that “suddenly, for no reason at all that I could see, her trainer gave her a wallop on the head. Poor Chi-Chi was so startled she turned on me, instead of on the trainer, and started to maul me, scratch me with her claws, and – worse still – bite me with her teeth.”

The entertainment exploitation of apes has gone on for years and years. (See ChimpCare’s Chimpanzees in Entertainment for many examples of the worst.) Indeed, the cultural misportrayal of great apes has infused our ignorance for a century, since Tarzan of the Apes was first published in 1912. It will take time to eradicate such a deeply embedded misunderstanding of apes, that has been reinforced by movies and books and advertisements and zoo shows.

I am as guilty of impatience as anyone. On January 3 last year, I wrote a blog post hoping that 2012 would be the Year of the Chimpanzee, and I started a “Year of the Chimp” Facebook page dedicated to it. In the blog, I listed six goals, none of them achieved -- although the National Institutes of Health made progress on getting the research chimps closer to retirement in the federal sanctuary system. One of my goals was to “shine the light on entertainers and marketers who exploit chimps for product promotions and profit.” It is evident that we will need to extend our Year of the Chimp through 2013, and so I’ve made that change to the Facebook page.

Actually, if we are real with ourselves, we will recognize that we need to extend educational efforts for another 20 years or more. We need to inform the people of my generation who grew up with the unadulterated crap of Tarzan and his ilk, unknowingly contributing to the exploitation of great apes.
“What a perfect creature!” Jane thought as she viewed Tarzan for the first time, Burroughs wrote. “There could be naught of cruelty or baseness beneath that godlike exterior. Never, she thought, had such a man strode the earth since God created the first in his own image.”
No wonder we all fell for Tarzan, king of the apes. Godlike! If only we could emulate the goodness that Burroughs tells us was the “hall-mark of his aristocratic birth, the natural outcropping of many generations of fine breeding, an hereditary instinct of graciousness which a lifetime of uncouth and savage training and environment could not eradicate.”

Times have changed. Now, we need truly good Tarzans and Tarzaninas, instead of a godlike fantasy. We need people who will rescue the apes from the humans, instead of the way Burroughs originally wrote his story… We need to transform Burroughs' manure into compost, to fertilize a new century of thinking.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

U.S. chimpanzee policy moves forward in 2012 (even though some great apes are left behind)

Progress doesn't come easy, but it is coming. The news from NIH on Tuesday, that over a hundred retired federal chimpanzees may be heading to a sanctuary instead of to another lab, marks a major milestone in America’s treatment of our great apes. That the Humane Society of the United States contributed half a million dollars to help build the needed facilities is a commitment that has earned my support forever. (Much more money is needed, and I hope you'll make a donation.)

Please make a donation to help build
sanctuary space for retired fed chimps.
This good news for the federal chimps is hopefully a harbinger of smart policy recommendations due from the committee looking at the eventual fate of a thousand retired federal chimps. The final report is supposed to be issued in early 2013, and I'm actually not dreading it.

But other apes don’t have a good future awaiting them. The bonobos at the Great Ape Trust (I've lost track, what is that organization calling itself these days???) remain subject to the nutsy anti-science bi-culturation pursued by former researcher Sue Savage-Rumbaugh. The older and fatter bonobos are probably suffering from heart disease, and poor baby Teco may be destined to repeat the tragedy of Nim -- who also slept with his female human nurturer, was treated like a baby human, and grew up confused and conflicted. (By the way, DO NOT MISS the superb movie Project Nim, on HBO tomorrow night!) We can only hope that bonobo experts will be available to help in the next couple of months when the Iowa Primate Research Center goes broke.

We pretty much have to give up on any hopes that the gorilla Koko will ever have an opportunity to live as a gorilla. Her life has been so warped she likely doesn’t have a clue what a gorilla is. But my heart really goes out to the other gorilla, so ignored by Koko's fawning media. After Penny Patterson’s newsletter asserted that she focuses on enrichment — “making a gorilla’s life in a captive setting as joyful, stimulating and healthful as possible” – former caregivers sent me some angry missives, explaining that it is much more critical “to get proper medical and dental care for Ndume, who has not been examined in more than 20 years since arriving at the Foundation.” Ndume is the male gorilla, owned by the Cincinnati Zoo, who lives in solitary confinement on the Gorilla Foundation premises... while Penny pretends that Koko wants to have Ndume’s baby.

I must stipulate that I don’t know if Ndume is hurting, but several former caregivers tell me that he shows pain when he chews. I passed the complaints to the USDA inspectors in August. After I filed a Freedom of Information Act request in September, asking what inspectors found, an APHIS representative told me that “agency employees conducted a thorough search of their files and have advised that Animal Care’s employees are still looking into your concerns… therefore no findings are available at this time. Moreover, we are unable to determine when the proceedings will be completed.” I filed another FOIA request for information on November 30, and I have received no information. Given the four months of delay, I truly hope that the caregivers are wrong about Ndume suffering from painful dental problems.

Robert Ingersoll, the primate researcher and animal rights activist who rescued Nim and others, was prescient in discussing the unsustainability of the small population of chimpanzees at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute. One of the chimps, lovely Dar, suddenly died recently, and we wait to hear about CHCI’s plans to provide chimp companionship for their remaining apes. There have been reports about renovating the facilities and bringing in more chimps, but questions remain about the status of research and university support for a pseudo-sanctuary. Wouldn’t it be great if ignoramus Mike Casey would let his show biz chimps go to live at CHCI? It’s not a perfect arrangement, but it would clearly be a step up for all the chimpanzees, especially with the Clark County decision to deny a request to let Casey's chimps live in a residential area.

As we get closer to the end of yet another Congress that has not passed the Great Ape Protection Act, (even though the Senate committee made some progress), we realize that apes remain at the mercy of their owners, no matter how crazy or money grubbing. Fortunately, the U.S. has a great core of sanctuaries (that need more $$ support) and advocates (ditto) fighting for the health and well-being for as many animals as possible. I believe we also have an Administration that has made strides in developing better policies. All in all, 2012 has been a good year for many apes.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

I “heart” the Great Ape Heart Project

When you hear about the too-soon death of a gorilla or chimpanzee who had, by all appearances, seemed completely healthy, chances are they died of heart disease. They are so much like us – so of course they would share some of our health risks. On the other hand, they are different enough that we need to learn more about how to prevent, detect, and treat their heart problems.

Fortunately, one of the most important research efforts for great ape health is fully underway.

Gorillas at the National Zoo participate
in the Great Ape Heart Project
Based at Zoo Atlanta, the Great Ape Heart Project was established to investigate and understand cardiovascular disease in great apes. They are creating and maintaining a centralized database that can help veterinarians analyze cardiac data and coordinate cardiac-related research activities. Most importantly for the here and now, the Great Ape Heart Project is the central heart-related communications point for zoos, research facilities and sanctuaries where apes are housed. The data helps individual animals, even as the project establishes a database for future research. (A terrific web page explains how the gorillas at the National Zoo are participating in the project.)

Hayley Murphy, DVM, is leading the Great Ape Heart Project, which now involves more than 50 participants from over 30 institutions. It was organized by Zoo Atlanta, the Emerging Diseases Research Group of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, the UC Davis College of Veterinary Medicine, and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.

Be sure to “like” the Great Ape Heart Project Facebook page, so you can follow their work. It’s a project that should be near and dear to our hearts. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Spanish urban planner to lead development of bonobo artist colony at Iowa’s Great Ape Trust

The pronouncements of the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary (aka Great Ape Trust, aka Bonobo Hope, dba, tweeting as Art4BonoboHope) are fascinating.

Savage-Rumbaugh's artist brother, Russ RuBert, took this
photo of the scientist and the baby bonobo she is trying to
rear "bi-culturally." 
Earlier this week, in the 7th paragraph of their press release announcing the unsurprising results of their self-serving “investigation” of Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, the organization announced they now have a new board president, replacing the former short-timer board president Ken Schweller.

“Notable primatologist, Dr. Carmen Maté, was voted in as Board Chairperson. Among other rolls [sic], Dr. Maté has served as the research director at the Barcelona Zoo for eight years and was also executive director of the Barcelona Zoo from 2004-2008.” This smooth presentation of Mate’s background makes it sound like she worked at the zoo for 12 years, doesn’t it? Doing all sorts of cool primatology things, right?

Actually, Mate’s LinkedIn page does not mention that she is a primatologist, but I did find her name mentioned in a “Laboratory Primate Newsletter” in 1994. Since 2009, she has worked as a “Cap de projectes” (project management head) at the Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona. Prior to that, she lists three positions, held simultaneously, from 2004 to 2008. She lists her positions as executive director at Barcelona Zoo, and research director at the same time, but starting a bit earlier (from 2000 to 2008). Also at the same time, she was an assistant professor at Pompeu Fabra University (from 1999 to 2009). Her write-up at the Urban Ecology Agency says she is on the “Scientific Committee for the Jane Goodall Institute” – but I could not find her name mentioned anywhere on the JGI website. Nor could I find any reference to a scientific committee. So perhaps she no longer serves in that capacity.

This is just like the ever-changing Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope Iowa Primate Research Sanctuary. They always leave us guessing about the facts behind the ambiguity… like unstated facts revealed in Perry Beeman’s latest article, at the Des Moines Register:

“The sanctuary has applied for an $850,000 grant from the [Prairie Meadows] racetrack and casino. The documents detail Savage-Rumbaugh’s plans to establish a sustainable village centered on an art program involving humans and bonobos at the site, and an artists colony. The application notes the program would be run by a ‘nationally known artist,’ Russ Rubert of Springfield, Mo. The application doesn’t disclose that Rubert is Savage-Rumbaugh’s brother.”

As always, the news behind the pronouncements at Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope Iowa Primate Research Sanctuary is intriguing, even if it doesn’t inspire any confidence in their primate care capabilities. And we can always look forward to the next name change. Since a visitor center (built with a hoped-for massive cash influx donated in memory of Panbanisha’s tragic death) and an artist colony don’t comport to sanctuary standards, and there is no research being conducted, perhaps their next fundraising scheme will be to hold a contest to find an appropriate name for the program.

Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope Iowa Primate Research Sanctuary Exhibition Hall and …??

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Former Great Ape Trust employees retain lawyer, call for disclosures

Yesterday a group of 11 former employees representing approximately 50 years of collective research and work with primates, issued a press release through their recently retained lawyer.

Due to continued threatened legal action against the group of former employees who came forward with their concerns, the former employees have retained legal counsel, Angela Campbell at Dickey & Campbell Law Firm.

Management at the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary,
which permits children to have access to ape
facilities, is under fire.
In the release from Campbell’s firm, the former employees (informally known as the Bonobo 12, but evidently minus one) called on the Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary to issue a written report of its specific findings in the investigation of the bonobos’ welfare at their facility. The investigation was spurred by concerns voiced by the Bonobo 12, and this latest request follows the death of the bonobo Panbanisha, as well as the administrative leave – and subsequent reinstatement – of Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh.

Without access to those materials, the former employees say they are “unable to comment on any comment made by IPLS about the prior investigation or the thoroughness of the private, internal investigation.”

The IPLS has reportedly issued a press release dismissing the concerns of the former employees, although (at the time this is written) it hasn’t been posted to its website. It supposedly references a prior internal investigation from December of 2011, as well as materials and interviews possessed by the internal investigatory committee. The former employees say they were not provided copies of the “prior investigatory report, nor were they privy to the materials used by the internal investigators.” 

“Bonobos are a unique and prized endangered species, and the individual bonobos at the Sanctuary are at the forefront of language research in non-human apes. The Great Ape Trust should come forward with all information it has regarding the death of Panbanisha, and the current health of the remaining bonobos,” said Dr. Janni Pedersen, an assistant professor of anthropology who did her dissertation research while at the Great Ape Trust.

“External, independent, and transparent investigations bring with them a level of credibility and reliability that secret, internal investigations do not. We encourage transparency in this process for the protection of the bonobos,” said Daniel Musgrave, a former caretaker, research assistant and education coordinator at IPLS who obtained his master’s degree in biological anthropology while doing independent research at the facility.

According to the press release, “the former employees have no other comments at this time, pending the release of Panbanisha’s necropsy results and a formal decision whether to release the internal investigatory materials utilized by the Board in reaching its most recent decision.” 

I wonder if we should all hold our collective breaths, waiting for disclosure by the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary to publicly exhibit bonobo Kanzi and others

I still haven't seen a press release coming from the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary (formerly Bonobo Hope, formerly Great Ape Trust), but word is zooming around cyberspace tonight. Following a rash of emails that represent a "board meeting" earlier this week, the IPLS is changing focus (once again) and will now open up the facility as a public exhibition. On Tuesday, USDA’s Heather Cole inspected the facilities and unofficially informed them that their application for an exhibitor’s license was approved.

This new move into public exhibition does not come as a surprise, since they started leveraging bonobo Panbanisha's tragic death as a fundraiser for a new visitor's center, almost immediately after her death. This is a screen grab from their website. (BTW, the strange symbols are on the site, it isn't a problem with your computer.)

Also to no one’s surprise, Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary has rejected all claims of the Bonobo 12, as reports circulate that certain board members are consumed with imaginary conspiracies against the organization. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh maintains control of the bonobos, although she won't be the director. They have appointed interim director Julie Gilmore as the permanent director.

So, what’s next? I'm going to take bets. I'm willing to wager that the board will now start making statements intended to scare the Bonobo 12 into backing off their public statements. I imagine that a legal threat or two, and maybe a couple of nasty insinuations, will be mighty tempting to Savage-Rumbaugh and her board members.

Panbanisha's death is being used as a fundraiser for a visitor's center at the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary.
For background, see Great Ape Trust.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"Project Nim" on HBO December 20

"Project Nim," the powerful documentary about an important chapter in the ape language saga, will be on HBO TV on December 20. Mark your calendars now.

You do not want to miss this terrific movie, believe me. Laugh, cry, learn about this wonderful chimpanzee and the people who loved/exploited/saved him.

Learn more at HBO: Project Nim

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Panbanisha is dead

Bonobo Panbanisha is dead.

Now will the board of directors at the Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope House of Disaster act?

Panbanisha is one of the bonobos at the facility where executive director Sue Savage-Rumbaugh has been temporarily suspended, pending a friendly board “investigation” of charges leveled against her by former caregivers and others (known as the Bonobo 12).

According to a report from KCCI, Des Moines, “Great Ape Trust board Chairman Dr. Ken Schweller said Panbanisha likely died from complications from a cold. The center is waiting for a full report from a veterinarian.”

Shit! I feel like puking.

The current and former members of the Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary board of directors ignored our demand to give these bonobos a chance. It is evident, now, that members of the Bonobo Species Survival Plan need to make a vigorous push to care for the apes, and the board needs to listen. With the other bonobos sick with colds as well, they need to act. Obviously, the small animal vet they have on hand was not able to save Panbanisha, but maybe with the help of actual ape experts, they can save the rest of the bonobos.

Savage-Rumbaugh sent a self-serving email to board members, informing them of the death. I can't stomach printing all of it here (see the full text on the West Des Moines Patch website), but I find Savage-Rumbaugh's statement that "now [Panbanisha] is free, free at last" to be particularly galling, as if there was no choice in the conditions that killed this wonderful ape.

Panbanisha was 27 years old. Healthy female bonobos in captivity are expected to live into their 50s.

UPDATE, Nov 13 2012: Per their usual flailing approach to fundraising, it isn't surprising that the organization is now leveraging this tragic death into a pitch for donations -- to build a visitor's center! One would think that hiring professional caregivers would be a higher priority.


For background on the fears for the health and safety of the bonobos, see We believe… there is an immediate danger to the apes’ health and lives, a statement from the Bonobo 12.

One of the former caregivers, Daniel Musgrave, wrote a desperately poignant essay, QUIET HIDE

More on Great Ape Trust...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Retired Lab Chimps Pressed Back Into Service: a Houston Press article

Earlier this month, Houston Press reporter Craig Malisow wrote an article, Research Lab Chimps Pressed Back into Service. Masilow does a really excellent job in explaining the Southwest National Primate Research Center's love affair with primate research. (Spoiler alert: the love is not extended to the primates.)

Southwest is part of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute. NIH announced it would be sending about a hundred chimps to Texas Biomedical over the coming months, as New Iberia did not seek to renew federal funding for their chimpanzees. (Both NIH and federal chimpanzee sanctuary Chimp Haven have independently expressed hopes to agree on the development of more space at the sanctuary, to house more or all of New Iberia's retired chimpanzees.)

In the meantime, Malisow's article is a MUST READ, in its entirety.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The crisis deepens at Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope

It’s time for an update on the situation at Great Ape Trust of Iowa / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary, and unfortunately the news is bad.

It appears that Sue Savage-Rumbaugh didn’t like the direction her board of directors was heading, especially as a couple of the more responsible ones left recently, so she has reportedly asked new people to join the board. Well, they are somewhat new. One is her sister, even though she is an employee of the organization. (I guess we can’t grumble here, since putting family members on the ape language boards is a popular move, ala Chimpanzee and Human Language Institute.)

We continue to watch one of the great farces, as Nancy Howell extended the completion date of the "investigation" into charges of Savage-Rumbaugh’s misfeasance, ostensibly to take more input. Of course, the limitations to the investigation seem designed to suit the Savage-Rumbaugh’s whimsy, so no one is holding their breath. 
Mobile Zoo, home of poor chimpanzee
Joel, got an inquiry about taking the
Great Ape Trust bonobos.
It appears that the board, at one point last month, was going to decide to move the bonobos. After the Bonobo 12 went public with their complaints, board president Ken Schweller and others got busy. Where the hell could they put those bonobos, out of Sue Savage-Rumbaugh’s reach? Calls went out all over the country, asking a slew of people if they could take the bonobos. The outreach extended to serious organizations (like one of the country's best sanctuaries), to the adventurous (like Lion Country Safari) to the absolutely ridiculous (like Mobile Zoo, Inc. -- an unaccredited outfit that got this official warning from federal inspectors in June, and that features chimpanzee Joel wearing a wig on its website), and reportedly several others.

(By the way, where is the report of Great Ape Trust’s most recent inspection? Federal inspectors from USDA went out there on September 12, and nothing is on the APHIS website yet. The agency regularly posts inspection reports as public information after 21 days, as long as the facility does not submit an appeal. In that case, they don’t post until the appeal has been settled. Schweller had told the Des Moines Register “USDA came out yesterday and everything looked good.” It’s been 39 days since the inspection. If it was so “good,” why isn’t it available?)

On October 4, Schweller and three other board members met secretly with two of the most highly respected ape specialists in the country, and told them that the board was ready to act responsibly, to save the bonobos from the sad situation they are locked into. I’ve heard that, par for the course for this sorry little outfit, the board members never followed up with the professionals who used personal resources and time to prepare and give the briefing. (Not even a thank you?) It is evident from the silence emanating out of Des Moines (and from the fact that two of the board members resigned almost immediately after coming out of that briefing), that the other two seemed to misrepresent their intentions.

Did Savage-Rumbaugh find out about all this activity? Is that why Schweller and the others have slunk back into their usual submissiveness? It looks for all the world like these board members are just too damned scared.

And let's not even get into Ted Townsend sitting by, leaving his "beloved" bonobos under what he had to know was mismanagement and a toothless board of directors. You gotta love millionaires with throw-away hobbies... 

The last I heard, Schweller was telling folks they would run out of money at the beginning of the year. After the way they have treated the professionals who have advised board members and have offered to help, I wonder who is going to be there to rescue the bonobos when the place goes under? 

No doubt, the real professionals will have to step in at some point… if the bonobos can hold on long enough.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Chimps-R-Us it ain't!

Chimpanzee lovers everywhere are familiar with the t-shirt motif “98% chimp.” It simply and aptly points out the close genetic relationships between humans and chimps. We delight in seeing pictures of chimps enjoying the toys that we played with, or having a birthday party, or acting out in ways that seem surprisingly and lovingly human. With that background, I picked up the book Almost Chimpanzee: Searching for What Makes Us Human, in Rainforests, Labs, Sanctuaries, and Zoos, by Jon Cohen, expecting to be outraged and offended. As someone who looks into an ape’s eyes and sees a spark of humanity looking back, I knew the book’s premise – examining the differences between chimpanzees and humans, rather than the similarities – would cause me no end of aggravation.

Instead, I found myself drawn further and deeper into the science that Cohen presents.

“Goodall was pursuing noble and worthwhile goals, and indeed she, along with Yerkes and other pioneering chimpanzee researchers, deserves much credit for making people more aware of the intelligence, social needs, and emotional depth of our closest cousins,” Cohen writes. “But I think the need to emphasize our similarities has abated.”

Ah, I can imagine my friends’ exclamations of disagreement, even as I write this. Before I read the book, I would have added my own exclamations. (In fact, I probably did at some point.) But hear me out…

I wasn’t totally converted to all of Cohen’s positions (I will never support the use of chimpanzees in research, for instance, and he hints that he favors some research as long as it is approached with high standards of compassion), but the book challenged many of my convictions. That is a good thing, since sound policies in chimp care and conservation require us to consider the depths of scientific inquiry. That deeper examination, compliments of Almost Chimpanzee, reveals differences between chimpanzees and humans that are just as exquisite and profound as our similarities.

I admit that it took me longer than usual to read this book. It is so crammed full of scientific explanations and research findings that I sometimes got loss in the nomenclature. Just when I felt like I was going to drown in unfamiliar terminology, however, Cohen comes through with a story or an interview that illuminates the point of his discussion. In that, he made the science understandable to a non-scientific reader like me.

Cohen covers a wide range of subjects, from brain functions to language to genetics and evolution. On every topic, I learned something new. This was especially true with his discussion of research relating to language. I knew I was skeptical of claims about Kanzi and Koko and other apes involved in language research, but I didn't know why. Cohen introduces the reader to the FOXP2 gene mutation, and he leads us down the path of discovery to how it draws the line between communication and language. He brings in Tetsuro Matsuzawa, who studies both wild and captive chimpanzees, to explain the difference between ape language research and his cognitive research. “Everyone admits that apes have primitive language at the word level. No one doubts that,” Matsuzawa tells Cohen. But, Cohen explains, “the greater claims made by ape language research never persuaded Matsuzawa and most others in the field, because it is not good science. ‘If you do ape language research, you cannot easily repeat what you have found, but I can always repeat my findings in front of you,’ he said.”

Throughout the book, I found facts that startled me (wild chimps have an average life expectancy of only thirteen years!) and answers that had eluded me for years (do female chimpanzees experience menopause?). As the daughter of a Detroit Zoo chimp trainer, I was grateful for his insights into the evolution of the Detroit Zoo, from its status in the 1950s and 60s as chimp show opportunist to their thoughtful (though in some ways very sadly and I would say stupidly mistaken) development of a zoo-appropriate chimpanzee exhibit.

Cohen’s history of chimpanzee research policy in the U.S. is also quite helpful, especially as he dispassionately explains which groups did what, without the self-promotion that one often finds on organization websites.

Above all, I found Cohen’s objective treatment of various sides of thorny issues quite exhilarating. His description of scientist Richard Wrangham is also an apt description of Cohen’s approach to this book. “He behaves, in short, like a scientist – curious, skeptical, intellectually honest, welcoming of criticism, and bound by data… [He] is an unusually humble cook of hearty food for thought…”

I strongly recommend Almost Chimpanzee: Searching for What Makes Us Human, in Rainforests, Labs, Sanctuaries, and Zoos. It is a must read for any ape advocate who wants to explore a plethora of ideas not usually discussed by advocacy groups. It helped me understand the scientific basis for the relationships between chimpanzees and humans, and for the differences that make both of us special. Most especially, it introduced me to a new appreciation for the science that will fill the analytical holes my emotions and assumptions often covered over.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

If we give up reality, we give up the chimps

UPDATE, October 12, 2012: There is some hope on the horizon for New Iberia's 110 chimpanzees. "Given the urgency of the 110 chimps, things are moving along in regards to these issues with discussions among different stakeholders now," a representative from one of the organizations closest to the situation tells me.  It's not transparent, and it's only a start... but it IS a promising development. A resolution that brings more of those chimps into U.S. sanctuaries may contain a way forward for the other federal chimpanzees.

UPDATE, October 18, 2012: From NBC News, Goodall praises NIH decision...: "NIH is considering all options to try and move as many of the 110 chimpanzees to the Federal Sanctuary within the constraints of this timeframe and to eventually move all 110 chimpanzees to the Federal Sanctuary.  In the meantime, NIH must continue to care for the chimpanzees and Texas Biomedical can offer high-quality care until the Federal Sanctuary has the capacity to take all 110," according to an NIH spokesperson.

UPDATE, October 23, 2012: NIH issued its annual report on where federally supported chimps are, and what it costs to support them at the various research facilities and at Chimp Haven (the federal sanctuary.)

Original post ----- It’s so easy to sign a petition. It’s neat to tweet, and Facebook sharing warms the soul. Providing all the housing and care for retired research chimpanzees, however, requires us to go further than that. It demands that we deal with hard facts. I tried to do that, explaining federal regulations and contracts in Build it and they will come, but some people in the ape community find legal issues tiresome and strangely irrelevant to their agendas.

Reality is often inconvenient. The reality for the future of retired chimps is worse than inconvenient. If we don’t get off our arses and unite in a common search for solutions, they will stay in accredited institutions: the labs and primate research centers we are fighting to get them out of.

Under current federal regulations, at least as they are interpreted now, there is only one sanctuary able to provide refuge for retired federal research chimpanzees, and that organization (Chimp Haven) has facilities for less than 150 chimps. We have a thousand chimpanzees who will (hopefully!) need a new sanctuary home. We have to look at the problem straight on if anyone is going to solve this mess.

I’ve never met the man, but I admire Bob Ingersoll. I love people who have a passion for non-human primates. I respect people who throw caution to the wind and dare to tackle the big problems. Last night, he posted a long comment on my blogpost, More chimpanzees to enter 40-year-old language research program. I recommend you read it. His concern is two-fold: some of the not-for-profit groups have chimpanzees groups that are too small for optimal welfare; and we do not have enough accredited facilities built to handle the retired federal chimpanzees. This is what he suggested:
I would like to propose a strategy, a plan, that we all can get behind and make happen and one that could solve the captive chimp problem we now face currently here in the USA. What if CHCI [Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute] and CSNW [Chimpanzee Sanctuary NW] and FAUNA [Canada’s Fauna Foundation] all together proposed a unified effort to move all their chimps to Florida near the two World Class Chimp Facilities [Save the Chimps and Center for Great Apes] that are already up and running in central Florida? That proposal would not only include the chimps who currently reside at the three facilities mentioned. Let’s include the over 900 chimps that right now need a home in the master plan.

What if NEAVS [New England Anti-Vivisection Society] and PCRM [Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine] and HSUS [Humane Society of the United States] and all the other NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and groups and individuals got behind an effort like this? A unified effort to do the right thing and do it ASAP. What if we asked several members of Congress and other public officials, like Representative Kucinich for example, to help make this happen?

We have to start somewhere and what I am proposing is that we all get together and at least talk about what would be in the best interests of ALL the chimps who need a home. All 937, as NEAVS [New England Anti-Vivisection Society] has recently stated. I would love to be part of that plan. Wouldn’t you?

Bob Ingersoll, Project Nim
I think Bob’s idea has a lot of merit. I think we need to try. To start, I'd like to propose a one-day workshop, in Washington, D.C., following the release of the NIH working group's advice (due in January) on the size and placement of active and inactive chimpanzees. Here’s a draft agenda, to get the ball rolling...

Monday, October 8, 2012

More chimpanzees to enter 40-year-old language research program

After my last blog post, Key Out Now: ending the failed ape research projects, I heard from several supporters of the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute. I had discussed the Great Ape Trust, the Gorilla Foundation, and the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute in that post, and CHCI supporters definitely let me know that they do not want CHCI mentioned in the same breath as the Great Ape Trust.

“Please do not include CHCI with your criticisms of Great Ape Trust,” said one caregiver who works at CHCI. “I don't think Fouts is mismanaging the chimpanzees in the way that it's pretty clear is going on at the other two places,” an anthropologist observed. (Note: Fouts retired last year from a CWU administrative post, although he is listed as one of the directors of Friends of Washoe.) “To lump CHCI and the Great Ape Trust together was unfair and misleading,” a worker at a sanctuary commented on Facebook.

I agree that Great Ape Trust is in a league of its own, followed closely by Gorilla Foundation. However, I stand by everything I wrote in Key Out Now. I presented the views of ape research program veteran and primate welfare activist Bob Ingersoll, who suggested that the apes at Great Ape Trust and CHCI need to be moved to a proper sanctuary, where they can live with other apes in large groups, and without being subjected to paid public attendance.

I also understand there are two sides to any story, especially when it comes to ape care and management (where there are usually six or seven sides), so I offered to provide an open platform for one of CHCI’s most ardent supporters. She declined my invitation, but as CHCI supporters argued their case, I learned something new. I learned that CHCI is bringing more chimpanzees into its research program.

Now that we know that CHCI plans to bring more chimpanzees into captive research, at a time when many are questioning the value of the language programs, perhaps we should open up the discussion a bit.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Key Out Now: ending the failed ape language research projects

I cannot find anyone actively working in the great ape field who believes that the Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary has a viable future. Nor do I find much beyond sighs and sorrow when I ask about the viability of Penny Patterson’s Gorilla Foundation, which is basically a permanent fundraiser for Koko’s care and Patterson’s lifetime salary. Central Washington University's Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute, the last home for signing chimpanzee Washoe, has turned into a sideshow for paying customers. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Penny Patterson, and Roger Fouts are the public faces of failure for the language research projects that started with so much hope in the 1970s.

Most of the public focus this summer has been on the continuing debacle at Iowa’s Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope, which lost its rich benefactor and most of its professional staff by January 2012. After the Bonobo 12 issued their open letter to the board of directors, detailing the reasons why they feared for the health and safety of the bonobos, some experts in the great ape professional community tried to offer guidance and assistance to both Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and to board members. They did it at their own expense and, it appears, their help was spurned.

I recently learned that two of board members have resigned. Dr. Ed Wasserman, the Stuit Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Iowa, and Dr. Paul Lasley, professor and department chair at Iowa State University’s Department of Sociology, evidently joined the Great Ape Trust Board of Trustees sometime in 2011, according to the organization’s filings with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. In a major blow to any shreds of remaining credibility of so-called “research” at Bonobo Hope, and in a stunning rebuke to the flailing “leadership” trying to pull this crisis back from the brink of financial ruin, the two turned in their walking papers last week, after being briefed on the true extent of the ape management crisis. (I asked both men for comments, and I have not yet received any response.)

Bob Ingersoll and Nim, before Nim was sent to LEMSIP
When did the promise of ape language research fail? What have we learned over the past 40 years? What will happen to the chimpanzees, gorillas, and bonobos who are still subjected to “research” that produces nothing but shrugs and mockery among legitimate primate researchers around the world? One man who has a unique and close-up perspective is Robert Ingersoll and, fortunately, he agreed to share his thoughts. On the record. Now that is one brave man…

You will know Bob from the movie Project Nim. He was a graduate assistant in Roger Fouts’ American Sign Language research program at the Institute of Primate Studies at Oklahoma University during the 1970s, when ape language research was in its heyday. The good times did not last long. Fouts had a falling out with others at OU, and he took his signing chimpanzee Washoe to Washington. The research with Nim ended badly, and the poor chimp ended up in LEMSIP – until he was rescued through an underground rescue effort, with the active support of LEMSIP’s Dr. James Mahoney and Bob. Patterson is still with Queen Koko, as poor ignored gorilla Ndume, a 31-year-old silverback still owned (but evidently abandoned) by the Cincinnati Zoo, lives in an isolated trailer with poor medical care. (USDA APHIS inspectors, according to information from that agency, are currently investigating his alleged lack of care.) And the Savage-Rumbaugh program with Kanzi and others is in free-fall.

I asked Bob to call on his experience in the research programs and his passion for primate welfare, to help me understand benefits of the ape language studies.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A young woman sets an example for the directors of the Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope

Ashley Rood acted when she discovered a wallaby's death.

Ashley Rood could have walked away and never looked back. She could have let the animals at Reston Zoo continue to suffer under an abusive director. But she didn’t. She may have quit her job, but she never quit on the animals who needed her help. I find that awe-inspiring.

On Friday, the director of Reston Zoo was found guilty of animal abuse. In this particular case, Meghan Mogensen drowned a wallaby who had an injured eye but, according to testimony at her trial, it was only her latest cruelty. Reston Zoo is not accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, so it is not obligated to live up to AZA standards of humane care. Still, new people come to work at the zoo, unaware of Mogensen’s history of shooting animals who need to be euthanized, and they dedicate themselves to the animals. I suspect that’s what curator Ashley Rood did when she started working there. Ashley reached a point, however, when she had enough of Meghan Mogensen’s bullshit, and she did the right thing for the animals. She made a tough decision to do the courageous thing and she reported Mogensen to the authorities.

“Rood, who has been searching for work since she resigned from the zoo, said outside court that the outcome justified her decision to come forward,” according to the Washington Post. “It made everything I did worth it,” Ashley said.

See, there are good people who take the right and proper action when they see a wrong, even though it involves a personal sacrifice.

When I read about Ashley Rood, I can’t help but think of the members of the Board of Directors at the Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary. I’ve been really hard on them, maybe too hard. Maybe they were unaware of Sue Savage-Rumbaugh’s history, or of the complaints lodged against her through the decades.

Great Ape Trust board members, like Rood, have found themselves in the middle of a morass not of their making. And they, like Rood, have an opportunity to do good, to act for the benefit of the animals. Like Rood, they can act despite the hardship on themselves.

The directors of the Great Ape Trust have a tremendous opportunity. They can each make the hard decisions they know they have to make. I don’t know these people, but I see where they are in life. They didn’t get where they are because they took the easy way. These aren’t some schmucks off the turnip truck. They are leaders in their fields, respected in their positions. They are smart. I’m sure they joined the board because they wanted to contribute to the greater scientific understanding of great apes and humankind.
They wanted to advance science; they wanted to contribute to a great cause. They still can, and I think they will.

Each man and woman on that board will, I believe, stand up and say “enough.” They will decide to end the debacle that has the global ape research community shaking its collective head in disgust. (The bonobo posts in this blog have topped 12,000 views, from 78 countries, for just the past 3 weeks!) They recognize that the lack of vigorous research has doomed any respectability once garnered by the Great Ape Trust. And they, like young Ashley Rood, will act for the benefit of the animals.

The members of Board of Directors of the Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope find themselves in a position they likely never imagined. I believe they are people of integrity. When they act, as they must, we will honor them for their insight and their fortitude. Just as we honor Ashley Rood today.
See more about the Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Build it and they will come

The National Institutes of Health recently announced that they will relocate 110 NIH-owned chimpanzees currently located at the New Iberia Research Center in New Iberia, La., because NIH funding to the facility will end in August 2013. Moving that many research chimpanzees, safely, will require the better part of a year, and so the process needs to start now. (For more, see Update on Relocation.) 

According to NIH, “approximately ten of the chimpanzees will be relocated to the federally supported chimpanzee sanctuary operated by Chimp Haven, Inc., in Keithsville, La., which would put Chimp Haven at or near full occupancy.”
They will relocate the remaining chimpanzees to Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, where they will be ineligible for use in biomedical research. “Texas Biomedical has the specialized resources, experience, capacity, and funding mechanism to provide continued high-quality care for the chimpanzees,” NIH says. 
Naturally, we all want all of those chimps to go to sanctuaries. Public trust in Texas Biomedical is understandably low. Besides, even if the Institute was the best research facility in the universe, these chimpanzees deserve retirement at a sanctuary.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve met colleagues who work at NIH. I’ve asked them, point blank, whether director Francis Collins gives a hoot about the research chimps. Or is he, I asked, playing chimp advocates for fools? To a person, these colleagues praised Collins. So how am I to take his supposed treachery? Why would he put these poor chimpanzees into a research institute?
I decided to look deeper than the layer of press releases sent out by a bevy of organizations this week. What I found surprised me. I can’t see that NIH has any choice. There appears to be no qualified sanctuary facility with enough built space to take them in. 

Why can't the New Iberia chimps go to Chimp Haven?
Chimp Haven operates the nation's sanctuary system for the federal research chimps. Right now, they ARE the "sanctuary system." (No other sanctuary currently has the ability, for various reasons, to take in retired federal research chimpanzees.) 

In 2002, Chimp Haven signed a contract with the federal government. (See the contract, here.) Under that 10-year contract, Chimp Haven was supposed to construct and operate a sanctuary that would initially house 200 chimpanzees. Here we are a decade later and, according to ChimpCare, Chimp Haven currently has 125 chimpanzees. Recent statements by Chimp Haven indicated that they could take the ten chimps that NIH is sending to them, and an additional ten beyond that. So let’s say they’ve got the ability to house and manage 145 to 150 chimpanzees. They are at least 50 spaces short.
Why hasn’t Chimp Haven constructed facilities for the 200 chimpanzees, as provided in their federal contract? “Of course no sanctuary has space for 110 chimps sitting empty that would be silly,” Linda Brent told me. “Facilities are usually built when there is a need, as been done in the past under our agreements with NIH.”
“If NIH has determined that they need to retire 110 chimpanzees – then the sanctuary community should be included in the discussion to determine the most cost effective way to expand and accommodate the new chimpanzees,” Brent says.
It seems to me that discussion already took place, when Chimp Haven made their proposal, and the government accepted it, in 2002.
The contract with Chimp Haven provides for the accommodation of new chimpanzees. "Future expansion at this site will ultimately house 300 chimpanzees,” the contract says. And then it goes further. “At least two other sites (owned by Chimp Haven or subcontracted to other sanctuaries) will accommodate groups of 75 or more chimpanzees, as NIH determines that need, for a maximum of 900 chimpanzees."
So far, that isn’t happening. Brent told me “we just recently completed a master site plan to locate all the future facilities on our 200 acres. Modest calculations indicate that we could house over 400 chimpanzees.” Which, of course, is still less than anticipated in their contract.
Is the shortfall in sanctuary facilities due to money problems?
As I understand the current law, there is a $30 million cap on federal payments to Chimp Haven. Additionally, regulations provide that "over the term of the 10-year, cost-sharing contract [that started in 2002], NCRR will provide approximately $19 million in total costs, and Chimp Haven will contribute approximately $4 million toward direct costs. NCRR also awarded two construction grants, totaling a little over $11.5 million, so that Chimp Haven could develop and build the state-of-the-art facility." (See 42 CFR Part 9, Standards of Care for Chimpanzees Held in the Federally Supported Chimpanzee Sanctuary System; Final Rule, Oct. 10, 2008.)
I asked Brent if these provisions have been met. “Can you tell me how much Chimp Haven has received from NCRR since your inception, and how much you've raised in private funding?” I asked her.
Brent didn’t answer my questions although she acknowledged the $30 million cap issue, telling me, “it is unclear to me what the implications of the $30 million funding cap might be and we are looking into this issue now.” NIH advises that I will have to file a Freedom of Information Act response to get the financial information. So, while I do that, let’s look at the other housing option available under the Chimp Act and the regulations: other sanctuaries.

Why can't the New Iberia chimps go to other sanctuaries?
We have to wrap our head around the fact that Chimp Haven is the primary contractor for the sanctuary system. Regulations envision a possible need for subcontractors (who would come in handy now, to take these New Iberia chimpanzees), but the feds require any sanctuary to “achieve accreditation by a nationally recognized animal program accrediting body (such as the AAALAC, the AZA, or similar recognized body).”
I've gone through the accredited organizations at AAALAC and found no primate sanctuary (besides Chimp Haven) listed. Neither are there are any primate sanctuaries with AZA accreditation. It appears, therefore, that none of the other chimpanzee sanctuaries meet federal qualifications for subcontracting, at least as those regulations are currently interpreted, and thus Chimp Haven has no subcontractors lined up to provide care and management of retired research chimpanzees.
This does not bode well for the future. With the implementation of the Institute of Medicine recommendations on the use of chimpanzees in NIH-funded research, NIH anticipates that there will be a substantial reduction in the number of chimpanzees needed for research, and those chimpanzees will need to be placed in somewhere. We’ve known this since last December.

Where will future federal research chimp retirees go?
The thousands of people around the country who joined the fight to end to chimpanzee research deserve an explanation of why the federal sanctuary system appears to be falling short. We deserve to know how much of the $30 million in federal money has been spent at Chimp Haven to build facility space for only 150 chimps. Most of all, we deserve a public discussion about some real solutions.

We fight to free the chimps from research. The NIH has agreed to end research, at least for the vast majority of chimps now in federal programs. Now we have to get practical. We need to fight, even harder, to prepare for their freedom. I believe that if we build additional sanctuary facilities, they will come.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Give these bonobos a chance!

My mind tonight is on the poor bonobos at Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary. I gaze at this picture of Kanzi, and I see a heart attack waiting to happen. This is the picture of an obese ape who is likely on death's doorstep.
And poor Panbanisha, with her very abnormal labial swelling. She carries it in her hands. (This is a screen grab from a CNN video, showing Panbanisha from the rear. How can Savage-Rumbaugh look at this gross abnormality and grin?)
Experts who know much more than I tell me that Kanzi and Panbanisha and the others are emotional and physical wrecks.
Tonight I ran across this photo of one of the Milwaukee County Zoo bonobos, on a blog by Laurel Braitman, and I can hope. This pride, this grace and charm, can hopefully be claimed, one day, by Kanzi and the others.
Experienced professionals assure me that the Great Ape Trust bonobos could have a future, if only the Board of Directors would take their responsibilities seriously. If only they would put the bonobos into the care of experts who have given their lives to rehabilitating and caring for apes who have been hurt by humans.
The Great Ape Trust bonobos must have time to give their minds and bodies a chance to relax. They need to let it all out in a safe environment, where they can trust the humans. It will be tough at first, I'm sure, but it will get better once they figure out that they will never be hurt again. That people respect their needs. They will make new pals, they will learn to play, and they will participate in their own health care. Cognition work will go on. Finally, life gets better, health improves, and social skills are learned.
Life for the bonobos will spiral upwards once they are removed from their current condition, receive therapy, learn new routines and, above all, get lots of love. With professional care, they will thrive.
Unless this drags on. Unless they are already too far gone for rehabilitation.
I hope with all of my heart that, one day soon, the Board of Directors will give the Iowa bonobos a new chance at life. Or they will have to explain to a global community why they turned their backs on apes who don’t have a chance without them.
These are the men and women who can give the bonobos their chance. These members of the Board of Directors have their own chance to do something good. Remember their names.
  • Margo Blumenthal, Secretary, Blumenthal Inc. (Des Moines)
  • Sally Coxe, President, Bonobo Conservation Initiative
  • Ursula Goodenough, Professor, Department of Biology, Washington University of St. Louis
  • Nancy Howell, Professor of Theology and Philosophy of Religion, Saint Paul School of Theology
  • Paul Lasley, Professor of Sociology, Iowa State University
  • Ramon Lim, Emeritus Professor of Neurology, University of Iowa
  • David Olisar, Marketing Manager, Tellabs Inc.
  • Ken Schweller, Professor of Computer Science and Psychology, Buena Vista University
  • H. Dieter Steklis, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Adjunct Professor of Psychology, University of Arizona South
  • Ed Wasserman, Stuit Professor of Experimental Psychology, University of Iowa
  • Derek E. Wildman, Associate Professor, Center for Molecular Medicine and Genetics, Wayne State University
  • Connie Wimer, Chairman, Business Publications

    Stay up to date with the latest developments at Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope.

    UPDATE: I wrote this blogpost on September 25, 2012. A month later, Panbanisha was dead.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Transcendental bonobos: Ecofeminist theologian who looks into apes' souls will look into charges levied at Great Ape Trust director

On September 11, 2012, the Board of Directors of Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate Research Foundation publicly announced that they would investigate serious issues raised by the Bonobo 12, concerning the health and safety of the bonobos under the care of Sue Savage Rumbaugh. While the board’s announcement stated that the investigation “will be conducted by members of the board, veterinarians and ape welfare experts,” I am unable to find any ape welfare expert who has been asked to participate. Based on letters emanating from the Trust, it appears that recently appointed board member Nancy R. Howell is leading the so-called “investigation” (that is ignoring 99% of the devastating history presented by the Bonobo 12.)
Who is Nancy R. Howell, and what qualifies her to conduct an investigation, even a farcical one, into appropriate ape care and welfare? According to her published papers, Howell peers into the souls of bonobos… But her expertise does not seemed geared toward the very real and practical issues of ape management.
Howell is a professor of theology and philosophy of religion at Saint Paul School of Theology, and is the author of A Feminist Cosmology: Ecology, Solidarity, and Metaphysics. According to Howell’s bio, available on her website (and here in Google Drive), her research interests are “science (primatology, genetics, ecology), philosophy of religion and theology; feminist, womanist, mujerista theory and theology; cultural diversity and philosophy of religion and theology; [and] Whiteheadian philosophy and theology.”
Howell's research interest in primatology is interesting, especially considering that in the entirety of her 17-page resume, she lists no employment in organizations involved in primatology. She lists no education in primatology. She lists memberships in 19 associations but, despite her stated interest in primatology, she lists no memberships in associations related to apes or primatology (even though the Great Ape Trust's IRS Form 990 lists her as a director in 2011.) She lists no professional activities in primatology. Howell’s extensive lists of awards, grants, honors, and recognitions shows nothing related to chimpanzees, apes, bonobos, or primatology.
(Image from The Followers of the
Magical  Monkey Goddess
Her resume does show a proclivity for writing about the spirituality of apes, however. Howell’s prolific writings in the 1980s and 1990s were devoted largely to feminist theology, and the relationship of theology to science. In 2001, she started writing about apes and religion. (See a list of her ape-related articles at the end of this post.) It might be more than coincidence that Howell’s scientific quest to find religious meaning in human kinship with primates fits neatly into Savage-Rumbaugh’s transcendental beliefs about her relationship with bonobos.
Savage-Rumbaugh explained her stream of consciousness connection to bonobos, during an interview on Radiolab. (Listen to the Kanzi segment.) “When I am with bonobos, I feel like I have something that I shared with them long ago, but I forgot,” she says. “As we’ve clothed ourselves and separated ourselves, we’ve gained a wonderful society but we’ve lost the kind of soul-to-soul connection that they maintain. And it sometimes seems to me as though we’re both a kind of a disadvantaged species. They have things that I’ve lost, I have things that they don’t have. I feel like if I could have their abilities, and keep mine, I would be whole.”
Feeling kinship with the apes is common to all ape advocates and ape lovers. Taking it a step further, owners of exotic pets often cite a need for that feeling of “completeness,” wanting their pet chimp or lion to fill a hole in the owner’s emotional life.
In my humble opinion, the immersion of Howell into primate connections with ecofeminist theology lacks the professional underpinnings that are necessary for a review of the practical issues that must be considered for the health and welfare of the bonobos. It is especially troublesome when considered in context with Savage-Rumbaugh’s mysticism. For instance, one has a sneaking suspicion that, when determining whether it was appropriate for Sue to take baby bonobo Teco to be blessed at a public Buddha Relics Tour, Howell might view this religiosity as goodness, regardless of the potential health consequences for Teco.
Howell and Savage-Rumbaugh share a spiritual affinity, with each other and with the apes. That may help their perceptions of their immortal souls, but it may also interfere with an objective and professional investigation that is necessary to help the bonobos at this critical moment.
Howell’s list of ape-related articles and papers (as listed on her resume):
·         “Embodied Transcendence: Bonobos and Humans in Community,” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 44:3 (September 2009): 60-12.
·         “Relations between Homo Sapiens and Other Animals: Scientific and Religious Arguments.” In The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science, ed. Philip Clayton and Zachary Simpson, 945-961. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
·         “The Importance of Being Chimpanzee.” Theology and Science 1:2 (October 2003): 179-191.
·         “A God Adequate for Primate Culture.” Journal of Religion and Society 3 (2001) [journal online]. Available from [Note from Dawn: Disappointingly, this article is no longer on the website.]Internet accessed 2 May 2001.

·         “Chimpanzees, Bonobos, and the Future of Theological Education.” Science and Religion Roundtable Series. St. Andrews Presbyterian College. Laurinburg, NC, March 2009.
·         “God and the Great Apes.” Willson Lecture 2008. Oklahoma City University. Oklahoma City, OK, October 2008.
·         “Embodied Transcendence: Bonobos and Humans in Community.” Science, Technology, and Religion Group and Animals and Religion Group. American Academy of Religion. San Diego, CA, November 2007.
·         “Embodied Transcendence: Bonobos and Humans in Community.” Conference: Visions of Integration II (STARS Grant Conference). James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA, October 2007.
·         “Chimpanzees: The Overlooked Aliens.” University of Great Falls, Great Falls, MT, March 2007.
·         “The Importance of Chimpanzees for Ecofeminist Theology.” Conference: “Exploring the Connections: Process- Relational and Women’s Theologies.” Center for Process Studies. Claremont, CA, April9 May 2004.
·         “Simians, Souls, and Solidarity.” International Conference. Highlands Institute for American Religious and Philosophical Thought. Dobogoku, Hungary, August 2003.
·         A Longing Look at Chimpanzees: Learning about Women through the Eyes of an Other: I. “Seeing the Other Chimpanzee,” II. “Seeing Ourselves in Relation to the Other Chimpanzee,” III. “Seeing Justice for Ourselves and the Other Chimpanzee.” Women’s Dialogue Seminar. Highlands, NC, June 2003.
·         “98% Chimpanzee, 100% Image of God: Embracing Humanity through Kinship with Nature.” Faculty Forum. Saint Paul School of Theology. Kansas City, Mo., May 2003. Fall Symposium: “Becoming Human: Exploring Scientific, Theological, and Biological Issues.” Saint Paul School of Theology. Kansas City, MO September 2003.
·         “98% Chimpanzee, 100% Image of God: Finding Religious Meaning in Human Kinship with Animals.” Kansas City Religion and Science Dialogue Project. Rock Hurst University. Kansas City, MO April 2003.
·         “The Chimpanzee Challenge to Human Uniqueness.” Beck Lecture. Southwestern College. Winfield, KS, February 2003.
·         “An Ecofeminist Stake in Chimpanzees.” Women in Religion, Ethics, and Science: Soul 2 Soul III Conference. Berkeley, CA, April 2002.
·         “The Challenge of Chimpanzees.” Danforth Associates Northwest Conference: What Chimpanzees Can Teach Us about Life, Love, and Learning. Ellensburg, WA, October 2001.
·         “Theology of Sociality and Primate Culture.” Primatology and Human Nature Research Seminar on Sociality. American Association for the Advancement of Science Program of Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion. Washington, DC, January 2001.
·         “Whitehead, Washoe, and Primate Culture.” Center for Process Studies. Claremont, CA January 2001.
·         “A God Adequate for Primate Culture.” Religion and Science Group. American Academy of Religion. Nashville, Tenn., November 2000. Women in Ministry. Saint Paul School of Theology. Kansas City, MO, October 2000.

Stay up to date on developments at the Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope.