When people say they fear for the apes at the former research facility, they are speaking quite literally. “I fear for the bonobos” isn’t whispered with a tree-hugging heart flutter, or the omnipresent wistful awwwwwww that young ladies write in response to a cute Facebook picture. Apes at the Bonobo Hope / Great Ape Trust / Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary and Halfway House have been escaping and biting caregivers for years, say people who are familiar with the conditions there. Former keepers were afraid ‒ for their own safety, the safety of other humans, and for the bonobos.
The Board of Directors knows about the allegations of escapes and attacks.
“For 10 years, I've helped create Great Ape Trust and assist Dr. Sue,” wrote a professional associate with an intimate knowledge of the operations. “I've seen her manipulation and deceitfulness for too many years.”
“Under her watch, we've had an ape escape and ape attacks...one to a graduate student, the other to a caretaker. Both required medical attention...in both cases Sue and Duane wanted it kept quiet. She disregards protocols and puts people in harm's way,” this insider wrote to the board of directors in January.
|Big ol' Kanzi loves his freedom!|
Others with knowledge of the facility confirm the charge, although it appears that this person may not have known ALL of what goes on there. “There have been more than two attacks and one escape,” one insider told me. “Bonobo escapes were not uncommon,” another said. But, this person explained, “there was a staff there that was trained to deal with it.”
Ah yes, staff. They will re-capture the bonobos and take bitten people to doctors.
So, let’s see, there are seven bonobos at the facility. There must be plenty of staff to handle this! The board wouldn’t accept less than the highest standards of care and security, would they?
I sent a couple of questions to Kenneth Schweller, chairman of Bonobo Hope (at least I think he is chairman of BH, although his email signature block still says Great Ape Trust. Sigh. I get so confused with all these names… but I digress…)
Q. Who is currently in charge of the day-to-day operations at the facility?
A. Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh is our Executive Director and in charge of daily operations. We are currently looking to add two additional caretakers so if you know anyone through your connections that might be interested please have them drop us a line.
Q. How many professional caregivers are employed currently?
A. We currently employ three professional caretakers and are actively seeking to add two more, plus many volunteers who help with cleaning, feeding, maintenance, etc.
Three professional caretakers. Ummm, that would be Sue, her sister Liz, and someone else? Ya know that feeling of fear? I totally get it. As a caregiver in an accredited sanctuary diplomatically put it, “a bonobo that is the size of a gorilla like Kanzi ‒ and who regularly has to put the ‘pine needles in the refrigerator’ and ‘the soap on the basketball’ ‒ is probably not in the best place.” (The pine needles and basketball refer to directions the “researchers” give Kanzi to “prove” he can understand English. Like every chimpanzee, gorilla, and orangutan I’ve ever met, Kanzi understands spoken directions from caregivers.)
Can a facility with seven bonobos, that has a record of escapes and attacks, really be a “sanctuary” with only three professionals on staff?
I asked another question of Chairman Schweller.
Q. What kind of accreditation does BH [Bonobo Hope] currently hold?
A. We are working with Patty Finch of the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries to complete our accreditation with them. Most of the paperwork and consultation is done, we are nearly there.
You see, Great Ape Trust lost its accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. It also lost its federal accreditation as a research facility. So they are now trying to be a sanctuary, as if that requires less of them than they had to provide to qualify for research funds. I asked Patty Finch about the status of Bonobo Hope’s accreditation, and Patty referred my question to Jackie Bennett, who is the deputy director for great apes at GFAS. Jackie graciously responded on a Saturday morning:
“GFAS does not discuss the status of applicant sanctuaries. If you review the GFAS website, you can find a listing of sanctuaries that have achieved either accredited or verified status, and for which that information has been made public. However, at any one time, there may also be sanctuaries that have made inquiries about accreditation, are somewhere in the process of completing paperwork or having site visits conducted, are under review, or which have been denied accreditation after review. We do not publicize or discuss this information.”
“I'll tell you one thing for sure, I did NOT feel safe working in that building,” a former Great Ape Trust worker tells me. Pshaw, why should workers worry about piddly little safety issues, like bites from jaws that can chomp through bone without even trying? But hey, if any brave ape caregiver wants to take Kenneth up on his offer of employment, note it in the comments to this blog and I’ll send you his email address. Just be sure you’ve got all your shots. And you might want to adjust your mindset, to think of bites from a 170-pound bonobo as common little “love nips.”
For more information see our Bonobo Hope post.
For more information see our Bonobo Hope post.