Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Another Great Ape Trust fundraising gimmick or honest option?

People must be in panic mode. I guess teetering on the brink of insolvency will do that.

Just three short days ago, I wrote to the chairman of the Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate Research Sanctuary / Garden Center, and asked him a series of questions about the conditions at the facility. I had seen reports of ape attacks and escapes. I got a fundraising letter that was unfocused and, well, weird. So I wanted to follow up.

I asked if the board of directors would move the bonobos out of their current facilities. Have they considered placing the bonobos in an accredited zoo or established sanctuary? If so, I asked, what was the result of those deliberations?
No, no, no, they would never move, Ken Schweller wrote back.
“We are currently in a wonderful facility on a large acreage. Our bonobos are happy here and we have no plan to move them, but we strongly believe in accreditation and so plan to complete our accreditation status very soon under the GFAS [Global Federation of Animal Sanctuary] guidelines,” he assured me.
Imagine my surprise, then, to see this headline in the Des Moines Register tonight. “Ape trust will move bonobos out of Des Moines unless they raise $25,000 by May 15!
That is quite a switch of policy in just three short days. But excuse me if I remain a little cynical about it. Is it a carefully thought out strategic decision, or a fundraising ploy? I vote for ploy.
The reason I think it is a deliberate scam on the Des Moines public is because Schweller tried the same thing with his RoboBonobo project, attempting to raise $20,000 through Kickstarter. (See the article, Ape-headed, ape-controlled, cannon-wielding robot is for real. Except it wasn’t for real.)
“I never really thought the chances were too good for reaching the $20k goal,” he explained to me. “The real purpose was to create public awareness of our program and encourage others to support us. Kick starter is an all or nothing deal, if you don't reach the goal you don't get any money.”
“Oh well,” Schweller wrote, “I will have to think of something else I can do to help the bonobos out, but it was worth a try.”
So now they are trying the “if you don’t give us money, we’re taking our ball and going home” playground taunt to the citizens of Des Moines. Except, as of now, they don’t a have a clue where their new home would be. They certainly have no plans to move them to a zoo or sanctuary. Unless, of course, Schweller lied to me. But he wouldn’t do that, would he?

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For more information see our Bonobo Hope webpage.

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