Saturday, April 7, 2012

What the hell is going on at the Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope Iowa Primate Research Sanctuary Circus?

Or whatever they are calling it this week…
The now infamous bonobo facility, ostensibly being run by executive director Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, is teetering on the brink of insolvency. The professional ape caregivers have left. The Trust has children of volunteers, for chrissakes, cleaning up! (An avid volunteer even posted pictures of her young son in one of the ape cages. It is shocking what people want to share on Facebook these days!) And despite the board knowing that Sue made false – no, strike that – delusional charges that staff was slicing the feet of a baby bonobo, the board of directors keeps her on, for the sole purpose of raising money. 
The day after the Des Moines Register wrote about Savage-Rumbaugh’s accusations about feet-slicing, the Trust’s board president, Ken Schweller, sent an email to the Trust’s staff. In the email, he revealed that “we decided weeks ago [November 2011?] to seek a new Executive Director who was a PhD scientist with standing in the field who could more effectively make our case with funding and other outside agencies, to put in place a Scientific Advisory Board, and to address the question of Sue’s role in the organization.”

Alas, that wasn’t to be, he explained in his December 14 email message. Ken enumerated his change of heart after it became obvious how bad the money situation really was: "1) It's lights out in a month unless we raise a TON of money immediately. 2) The only way to raise a lot of money in a short time is SUE. 3) Sue cannot raise money if she has no official status at the Trust, Therefore 4) Sue must be reinstated as Senior Scientist. 5) Sue needs to start raising money as soon as possible."
One would think that in the midst of this madness, sane heads would start to look for real options, besides the disjointed fundraising letter that I got. But what do we see now?
Schweller wants $20,000 for RoboBonobo
“Imagine a wheeled robot with an ape's head. Now imagine that the robot is actually controlled by an ape -- one wielding an iPad. Now imagine that the robot is chasing you around and shooting at you with a cannon.”
That, my friends, is the latest vision coming from Ken Schweller, Board Chair, Bonobo Hope Great Ape Trust Sanctuary and RoboBonobo Shooting Gallery, according to CNET’s Edward Moyer in his article, Ape-headed, ape-controlled, cannon-wielding robot is for real.
This is insane. According to press reports, Ken has only raised $1,000 of the $20,000 he needs for his RoboBonobo project. (He is a computer professor, and evidently sees no conflict of interest in his role as chair, robot project manager, and beneficiary of funding.) Why in the world would someone ask for money for a project like this when, according to the fundraising letter, “we lack sufficient funds to allow us to survive through the first year [2012].”
When are sane heads going to prevail? I said it last week, and I’ll say it again. I fear for the safety of the bonobos of the Bonobo Hope Great Ape Trust Sanctuary and House of Wackos.

UPDATE, July 16, 2012: The zaniness at the Great Ape Trust continues to escalate. Sue and another “researcher” went on NPR and actually declared that the bonobo Kanzi can talk. Yes, speak. In English. In a raspy whisper. If we had any doubts about the Doctor Doolittle aspect of the Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope Sanctuary and Loony Bin, those doubts were removed with this recent Radiolab program on NPR. (Listen to the last segment.) Science, my foot.

For more information see our Bonobo Hope post.


  1. Yes, we all fear for the safety and well-being of the bonobos -
    Thank you for the update - you should be running the Des Moines register - as that news source needs training in responsbile and credible reporting -
    Friends of the Des Moines bonobos

    1. I don’t know how the Des Moines Register could have missed the true story. The mess at the Bonobo Hope Great Ape Trust Sanctuary has got to be the worst kept secret among ape professionals. I am amazed at the messages I’m getting, from people across the country who want to remain anonymous. They use words like “fiasco,” “real mess,” “absolutely insane,” “loony,” “selfish,” “paranoia,” and – most shocking to me – “evil.” The word that appears most in the messages, however, is "fear." Fear of revenge against people who cross Sue, fear for the bonobos… On second thought, was the Register doing lazy journalism, or did fear stop people from talking to reporters? In any case, I'm glad to see that the Des Moines bonobos have friends.

  2. Glad to see someone on the "outside" got this info and that it didn't have to come from me. This person needs to be exposed. If only people knew what really went on in that place. I am glad to not have to see it any more but worry constantly about my old bonobo friends.

    1. I don't understand why this had to come from me! According to documents I've seen, board members were told about problems with management of the Trust. And there's more, about dangerous events. But I will save it for the next blog post, if the board continues to dodge responsible action on behalf of the bonobos.

      The truth is starting to come out.


    1. The day after that story was published, the board chairman sent a letter to Great Ape Trust staff. Just so the full story is out there, and that Sue's nefarious accusations don't go unanswered, I've decided to publish the entire letter from Ken Schweller. His letter vindicates staff and shows that Sue was kept on essentially as a fundraiser. I've posted Ken's Dec 14, 2011, letter on Google docs: