Friday, August 24, 2012

Bonobo Hope needs vision, not more gimmicks, to provide for the care of their bonobos

I really hoped that Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate Research Sanctuary (non-sanctuary non-research) Initiative would reorganize and get on their feet, and plan for their bonobos’ future. But every new publicity stunt, shamelessly paraded as “science,” indicates that they continue to flounder without a hint of the vision they desperately need. They can’t be serious.
Kanzi is the star of Bonobo Hope
After hearing of deep concern from former caregivers, consultants, supporters and volunteers for the welfare of Kanzi, Teco, and the other bonobos, I have posted several times about the nonsense emanating from Iowa since the beginning of the year. Several weeks ago I sent a letter to the Great Ape Trust (as I posted as an update to Follow the Money), requesting copies of their last three years of tax returns. Under tax law, they are required to supply those copies. A cover letter, from their lawyer on July 13, asked me to "say nice things about them," as the organization “is now totally dependent upon public support since the founder of the sanctuary is no longer able to finance its program.” I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt. I really did.
In April, before I got the letter from the lawyer, I had written about Bonobo Hope’s loony robo-bonobo gimmick, trying to raise money for a rolling app that would supposedly let the bonobos better communicate with humans. In July, I wrote a tiny note when Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and her colleague 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 program’s Doctor Doolittle aspect, those doubts are removed with this Radiolab program on NPR. Listen to the last segment.) After I got the lawyer’s request, I restrained myself earlier this month when I read Sue Savage-Rumbaugh’s new plan for Bonobo Hope: “Our goal is to create a sanctuary for artists—bonobo and human artists—to create interspecies art, music, and object/habitat construction through interspecies communication.” Um, what? But now, TA DA!, we have “research findings” that Kanzi can use a tool. For pete’s sake, primate researchers found this out about chimps and orangutans and gorillas decades ago. It has just now occurred to the robo-bonobo makers at Bonobo Hope????
So I give up. These people continue to flail around, trying one public relations gimmick after another. If they have a reasonable 5-year plan for gaining public support and ensuring care for their apes, they are not sharing it with the public. So far, I see no (bonobo) hope for a reasonable solution to their funding problems.
One problem is that the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary and Bonobo Hope Initiative, Inc., formerly doing business as Great Ape Trust of Iowa, has no history of responsible financial administration, as their tax returns show.

The steep slide in revenue is not a surprise. Great Ape Trust announced that their main contributor was backing out. Rob Shumaker (their director of development) left, taking four of the orangutans with him. More important, the comparison of revenue and expenses shows a constant problem of spending more than they took in.
With revenues consistently less than expenses, one would expect some belt tightening. It looks like they were able to save money when several of the highest compensated employees departed.
Still, I’m not sure how many nonprofit ape facilities have multiple employees earning 6-figure salaries, especially for part-time work. But at least Savage-Rumbaugh took a pay cut in 2011. I don’t know what she was doing as a research scientist, but we do know the board kept her on as their star fundraiser, as explained in this letter from the board chairman to the staff.
How much did the Great Ape Trust depend on founder Ted Townsend for their existence?
No wonder Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope doesn’t know how to raise money. They have no financial supporters. The copy of their 2010 tax return included Schedule A, Identification of Excess Contributions. There is one entry. “Ted Townsend, total contributions $15,068,548; excess contributions $14,742,777.” In other words, Townsend gave more than $15 million over the five years from 2006 through 2010.
I know that a lot of people want to know where the money went. I’ll get to that in another blog post but, in the meantime, anyone can ask for a copy of the last three years of tax returns. Since Great Ape Trust chose not to file their returns with Charity Navigator or Guide Star, they must send copies, within 30 days, to anyone who requests them. The address is:
Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary
4200 SE 44th Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50320-2085
To follow the latest developments, go to our Bonobo Hope post.


  1. There are some genetically represented bonobos at Iowa that could greatly add to the gene pool of bonobos in the US. It is a crime that these bonobos are not breeding with other founder animals or bonobos with the genetic matches that would strengthen the overall captive gene pool. The bonobos are a global treasure with under 200 in the world wide breeding program which is very carefully managed. To NOT cooperate and be a part of these global breeding programs because the bonobos in Iowa are considered personal property is very self serving. It is sickening to think that inbreeding is going on there (it is occuring. Kanzi at one point was vas clipped because his genes are over represented), that an infant is being "bi culturally reared" just so Sue can have a baby to hold, and that accidents and bites are still happening with these bonobos. Do your historical research folks! This sh** has been a common event for over 30 years with Sue. Here is the truth: no valid science has come out of GATI/Hope?/or LRC in decades. It never will. No big science grants will come, no magical donor will appear, oh..and the Easter bunny suit worn over there in Iowa is not science. I hate to break that bubble. You have a really sad situation with a mentally disturbed person who does pretend science with some of the animal kingdoms most valued and priceless individuals. Take a look at the photo of Kanzi..he is grossly obese and wearing a collar and leash. This does not occur anywhere else in the captive population, is very abusive,and needs to be stopped. Private ownership of an animal as rare and endangered as the bonobo is insane. How sad.

  2. When I look at this and what some of these people were making... it makes me SICK!! How in the world these people can sleep at night I have no clue!! When I was working for the Trust, I had an idea that these people were doing ok as far as money,.. but this puts a whole new spin on things! All I can say is.. Wow..

  3. Kanzi has tried to speak, with difficulty, since he lacks the human set of vocal cords. Has anybody tried to let a chimp or bonobo speak with an electronic voice synthesizer, like they use on humans after laryngectomies? They work great for humans, and might help apes communicate better and easier. classic type Karlsruhe, including text grant proposal research pub

    many more examples, with various levels of technology involved, can be seen on the Internet. The foregoing is just on overview sample.

  4. SSR is not the only one to attest to the fact that Kanzi has occasionally tried to vocalize with mimicked human sounds. There are a number of anecdotal stories about him trying to do this from time in Georgia as well... I think it was Bill Fields who said he's heard Kanzi speak the word "chase" when there was no lexigram board around.

    He's not terribly successful at it, to be sure. Bonobo throats just aren't designed to do it.