Friday, July 6, 2012

Gorilla foundation director pays herself poverty wages

I really feel sorry for Penny Patterson, the owner of the two gorillas Koko and Ndume. Her non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, The Gorilla Foundation, is evidently doing so badly that she can only pay herself about $15,000 a year. Dear lord, less than 5% of the organization’s Woodside, Calif, community lives below the poverty line, but it looks like Penny is just a step away from being counted among those numbers. (The 2012 poverty level for a single person household is $11,170.)
Maybe she’s just being terribly altruistic, though. Ape lovers generally are. Since she's running an organization that brought in just $2.8 million in fiscal year 2010, and $1.06 million in FY 2011, I can see why she would hesitate to give herself a living wage. I mean, she has two whole gorillas to care for! One can understand how easy it would be to run through that money every year. The organization’s latest tax return tells the sad story.
How terrible that they could only spend $339,086 for education and outreach from June 2010 to May 2011. My goodness, that’s barely enough to keep their website running.
And the measly $753,652 that they spent on all of that marvelous, groundbreaking research, just breaks my heart! “Ongoing interspecies communication research, through continuing observations of the use of American Sign Language by gorillas, and research into gorilla behavior and welfare” is well worth every penny, adding up to measly millions over the years. Just look at the science flowing out of their compound! You can’t put a dollar value on that.
Thank goodness they had $39,000 left over for their tremendous conservation activities.
With money so tight, it is no wonder that her plans to build the Maui Preserve, a Hawaiian home for Koko announced in 1994, have come to naught – although Patterson is still dedicated to the prospect and still raises money for it.
For those who may have nagging suspicions about the expenditures, please remember: we have to give The Gorilla Foundation the benefit of the doubt.
  • We know it’s not cheap to provide living quarters for great apes. Even though they don’t have the normal captive ape facilities, imagine how much money it must take to maintain Koko’s and Ndume’s trailers.
  • And we all know, from personal experience, how food costs keep rising. Since Patterson has turned the normally herbivorous gorillas into meat-eaters (did Koko get to enjoy a big juicy turkey leg for her birthday?), food costs are probably even higher than they’d be at a real sanctuary or zoo.
  • And I understand the nutritional and alternative medicine supplements, “prescribed” by a naturopath/psychic, can run at least $1,500 to 2,000 a month. But, hey, ya gotta keep the apes (and Patterson and vice president/treasurer/director Ron Cohn) healthy.
Of course, I could have all of this wrong. Maybe Patterson has another source of money, which isn’t unusual, especially for people who live in nice houses in the San Francisco Bay area. If you drive a Lexus, and especially if you let your gorilla explore your car, you must have some extra income, or at least a generous great-aunt, right?

(From KokoPix) I am told that this is not Penny's car. Patterson reportedly has a Lexus SUV hybrid (like the one in this link) which retailed for over $40K in 2011.

Patterson deserves our admiration. Sure, supporters may be sending in paltry sums to The Gorilla Foundation, but the gorillas get it all. From everything I’ve heard, Patterson constantly avoids the temptation to squeeze personal benefits out of the operation.
Let’s hope she at least keeps herself out of poverty.

See also:
Happy Birthday Queen Koko
IRS Form 990, The Gorilla Foundation, 2009
IRS Form 990, The Gorilla Foundation, 2010


  1. Hi Dawn - I read this and just felt sad for the two gorillas

  2. I think you just became my hero.

  3. Why aren't all your Koko related posts organized together? I've had to do some searching to find all your Koko- related posts.

    1. A blog is a web log, a running commentary of sorts. One week I may write about Koko, another week can be thoughts about another issue entirely. It's not like a website, where all topics are organized together. Best thing, if you want to read Koko-related posts, is to enter "koko" in the search bar.