Saturday, September 29, 2012

A young woman sets an example for the directors of the Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope

Ashley Rood acted when she discovered a wallaby's death.

Ashley Rood could have walked away and never looked back. She could have let the animals at Reston Zoo continue to suffer under an abusive director. But she didn’t. She may have quit her job, but she never quit on the animals who needed her help. I find that awe-inspiring.

On Friday, the director of Reston Zoo was found guilty of animal abuse. In this particular case, Meghan Mogensen drowned a wallaby who had an injured eye but, according to testimony at her trial, it was only her latest cruelty. Reston Zoo is not accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, so it is not obligated to live up to AZA standards of humane care. Still, new people come to work at the zoo, unaware of Mogensen’s history of shooting animals who need to be euthanized, and they dedicate themselves to the animals. I suspect that’s what curator Ashley Rood did when she started working there. Ashley reached a point, however, when she had enough of Meghan Mogensen’s bullshit, and she did the right thing for the animals. She made a tough decision to do the courageous thing and she reported Mogensen to the authorities.

“Rood, who has been searching for work since she resigned from the zoo, said outside court that the outcome justified her decision to come forward,” according to the Washington Post. “It made everything I did worth it,” Ashley said.

See, there are good people who take the right and proper action when they see a wrong, even though it involves a personal sacrifice.

When I read about Ashley Rood, I can’t help but think of the members of the Board of Directors at the Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary. I’ve been really hard on them, maybe too hard. Maybe they were unaware of Sue Savage-Rumbaugh’s history, or of the complaints lodged against her through the decades.

Great Ape Trust board members, like Rood, have found themselves in the middle of a morass not of their making. And they, like Rood, have an opportunity to do good, to act for the benefit of the animals. Like Rood, they can act despite the hardship on themselves.

The directors of the Great Ape Trust have a tremendous opportunity. They can each make the hard decisions they know they have to make. I don’t know these people, but I see where they are in life. They didn’t get where they are because they took the easy way. These aren’t some schmucks off the turnip truck. They are leaders in their fields, respected in their positions. They are smart. I’m sure they joined the board because they wanted to contribute to the greater scientific understanding of great apes and humankind.
They wanted to advance science; they wanted to contribute to a great cause. They still can, and I think they will.

Each man and woman on that board will, I believe, stand up and say “enough.” They will decide to end the debacle that has the global ape research community shaking its collective head in disgust. (The bonobo posts in this blog have topped 12,000 views, from 78 countries, for just the past 3 weeks!) They recognize that the lack of vigorous research has doomed any respectability once garnered by the Great Ape Trust. And they, like young Ashley Rood, will act for the benefit of the animals.

The members of Board of Directors of the Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope find themselves in a position they likely never imagined. I believe they are people of integrity. When they act, as they must, we will honor them for their insight and their fortitude. Just as we honor Ashley Rood today.
See more about the Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Build it and they will come

The National Institutes of Health recently announced that they will relocate 110 NIH-owned chimpanzees currently located at the New Iberia Research Center in New Iberia, La., because NIH funding to the facility will end in August 2013. Moving that many research chimpanzees, safely, will require the better part of a year, and so the process needs to start now. (For more, see Update on Relocation.) 

According to NIH, “approximately ten of the chimpanzees will be relocated to the federally supported chimpanzee sanctuary operated by Chimp Haven, Inc., in Keithsville, La., which would put Chimp Haven at or near full occupancy.”
They will relocate the remaining chimpanzees to Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, where they will be ineligible for use in biomedical research. “Texas Biomedical has the specialized resources, experience, capacity, and funding mechanism to provide continued high-quality care for the chimpanzees,” NIH says. 
Naturally, we all want all of those chimps to go to sanctuaries. Public trust in Texas Biomedical is understandably low. Besides, even if the Institute was the best research facility in the universe, these chimpanzees deserve retirement at a sanctuary.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve met colleagues who work at NIH. I’ve asked them, point blank, whether director Francis Collins gives a hoot about the research chimps. Or is he, I asked, playing chimp advocates for fools? To a person, these colleagues praised Collins. So how am I to take his supposed treachery? Why would he put these poor chimpanzees into a research institute?
I decided to look deeper than the layer of press releases sent out by a bevy of organizations this week. What I found surprised me. I can’t see that NIH has any choice. There appears to be no qualified sanctuary facility with enough built space to take them in. 

Why can't the New Iberia chimps go to Chimp Haven?
Chimp Haven operates the nation's sanctuary system for the federal research chimps. Right now, they ARE the "sanctuary system." (No other sanctuary currently has the ability, for various reasons, to take in retired federal research chimpanzees.) 

In 2002, Chimp Haven signed a contract with the federal government. (See the contract, here.) Under that 10-year contract, Chimp Haven was supposed to construct and operate a sanctuary that would initially house 200 chimpanzees. Here we are a decade later and, according to ChimpCare, Chimp Haven currently has 125 chimpanzees. Recent statements by Chimp Haven indicated that they could take the ten chimps that NIH is sending to them, and an additional ten beyond that. So let’s say they’ve got the ability to house and manage 145 to 150 chimpanzees. They are at least 50 spaces short.
Why hasn’t Chimp Haven constructed facilities for the 200 chimpanzees, as provided in their federal contract? “Of course no sanctuary has space for 110 chimps sitting empty that would be silly,” Linda Brent told me. “Facilities are usually built when there is a need, as been done in the past under our agreements with NIH.”
“If NIH has determined that they need to retire 110 chimpanzees – then the sanctuary community should be included in the discussion to determine the most cost effective way to expand and accommodate the new chimpanzees,” Brent says.
It seems to me that discussion already took place, when Chimp Haven made their proposal, and the government accepted it, in 2002.
The contract with Chimp Haven provides for the accommodation of new chimpanzees. "Future expansion at this site will ultimately house 300 chimpanzees,” the contract says. And then it goes further. “At least two other sites (owned by Chimp Haven or subcontracted to other sanctuaries) will accommodate groups of 75 or more chimpanzees, as NIH determines that need, for a maximum of 900 chimpanzees."
So far, that isn’t happening. Brent told me “we just recently completed a master site plan to locate all the future facilities on our 200 acres. Modest calculations indicate that we could house over 400 chimpanzees.” Which, of course, is still less than anticipated in their contract.
Is the shortfall in sanctuary facilities due to money problems?
As I understand the current law, there is a $30 million cap on federal payments to Chimp Haven. Additionally, regulations provide that "over the term of the 10-year, cost-sharing contract [that started in 2002], NCRR will provide approximately $19 million in total costs, and Chimp Haven will contribute approximately $4 million toward direct costs. NCRR also awarded two construction grants, totaling a little over $11.5 million, so that Chimp Haven could develop and build the state-of-the-art facility." (See 42 CFR Part 9, Standards of Care for Chimpanzees Held in the Federally Supported Chimpanzee Sanctuary System; Final Rule, Oct. 10, 2008.)
I asked Brent if these provisions have been met. “Can you tell me how much Chimp Haven has received from NCRR since your inception, and how much you've raised in private funding?” I asked her.
Brent didn’t answer my questions although she acknowledged the $30 million cap issue, telling me, “it is unclear to me what the implications of the $30 million funding cap might be and we are looking into this issue now.” NIH advises that I will have to file a Freedom of Information Act response to get the financial information. So, while I do that, let’s look at the other housing option available under the Chimp Act and the regulations: other sanctuaries.

Why can't the New Iberia chimps go to other sanctuaries?
We have to wrap our head around the fact that Chimp Haven is the primary contractor for the sanctuary system. Regulations envision a possible need for subcontractors (who would come in handy now, to take these New Iberia chimpanzees), but the feds require any sanctuary to “achieve accreditation by a nationally recognized animal program accrediting body (such as the AAALAC, the AZA, or similar recognized body).”
I've gone through the accredited organizations at AAALAC and found no primate sanctuary (besides Chimp Haven) listed. Neither are there are any primate sanctuaries with AZA accreditation. It appears, therefore, that none of the other chimpanzee sanctuaries meet federal qualifications for subcontracting, at least as those regulations are currently interpreted, and thus Chimp Haven has no subcontractors lined up to provide care and management of retired research chimpanzees.
This does not bode well for the future. With the implementation of the Institute of Medicine recommendations on the use of chimpanzees in NIH-funded research, NIH anticipates that there will be a substantial reduction in the number of chimpanzees needed for research, and those chimpanzees will need to be placed in somewhere. We’ve known this since last December.

Where will future federal research chimp retirees go?
The thousands of people around the country who joined the fight to end to chimpanzee research deserve an explanation of why the federal sanctuary system appears to be falling short. We deserve to know how much of the $30 million in federal money has been spent at Chimp Haven to build facility space for only 150 chimps. Most of all, we deserve a public discussion about some real solutions.

We fight to free the chimps from research. The NIH has agreed to end research, at least for the vast majority of chimps now in federal programs. Now we have to get practical. We need to fight, even harder, to prepare for their freedom. I believe that if we build additional sanctuary facilities, they will come.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Give these bonobos a chance!

My mind tonight is on the poor bonobos at Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary. I gaze at this picture of Kanzi, and I see a heart attack waiting to happen. This is the picture of an obese ape who is likely on death's doorstep.
And poor Panbanisha, with her very abnormal labial swelling. She carries it in her hands. (This is a screen grab from a CNN video, showing Panbanisha from the rear. How can Savage-Rumbaugh look at this gross abnormality and grin?)
Experts who know much more than I tell me that Kanzi and Panbanisha and the others are emotional and physical wrecks.
Tonight I ran across this photo of one of the Milwaukee County Zoo bonobos, on a blog by Laurel Braitman, and I can hope. This pride, this grace and charm, can hopefully be claimed, one day, by Kanzi and the others.
Experienced professionals assure me that the Great Ape Trust bonobos could have a future, if only the Board of Directors would take their responsibilities seriously. If only they would put the bonobos into the care of experts who have given their lives to rehabilitating and caring for apes who have been hurt by humans.
The Great Ape Trust bonobos must have time to give their minds and bodies a chance to relax. They need to let it all out in a safe environment, where they can trust the humans. It will be tough at first, I'm sure, but it will get better once they figure out that they will never be hurt again. That people respect their needs. They will make new pals, they will learn to play, and they will participate in their own health care. Cognition work will go on. Finally, life gets better, health improves, and social skills are learned.
Life for the bonobos will spiral upwards once they are removed from their current condition, receive therapy, learn new routines and, above all, get lots of love. With professional care, they will thrive.
Unless this drags on. Unless they are already too far gone for rehabilitation.
I hope with all of my heart that, one day soon, the Board of Directors will give the Iowa bonobos a new chance at life. Or they will have to explain to a global community why they turned their backs on apes who don’t have a chance without them.
These are the men and women who can give the bonobos their chance. These members of the Board of Directors have their own chance to do something good. Remember their names.
  • Margo Blumenthal, Secretary, Blumenthal Inc. (Des Moines)
  • Sally Coxe, President, Bonobo Conservation Initiative
  • Ursula Goodenough, Professor, Department of Biology, Washington University of St. Louis
  • Nancy Howell, Professor of Theology and Philosophy of Religion, Saint Paul School of Theology
  • Paul Lasley, Professor of Sociology, Iowa State University
  • Ramon Lim, Emeritus Professor of Neurology, University of Iowa
  • David Olisar, Marketing Manager, Tellabs Inc.
  • Ken Schweller, Professor of Computer Science and Psychology, Buena Vista University
  • H. Dieter Steklis, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Adjunct Professor of Psychology, University of Arizona South
  • Ed Wasserman, Stuit Professor of Experimental Psychology, University of Iowa
  • Derek E. Wildman, Associate Professor, Center for Molecular Medicine and Genetics, Wayne State University
  • Connie Wimer, Chairman, Business Publications

    Stay up to date with the latest developments at Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope.

    UPDATE: I wrote this blogpost on September 25, 2012. A month later, Panbanisha was dead.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Transcendental bonobos: Ecofeminist theologian who looks into apes' souls will look into charges levied at Great Ape Trust director

On September 11, 2012, the Board of Directors of Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate Research Foundation publicly announced that they would investigate serious issues raised by the Bonobo 12, concerning the health and safety of the bonobos under the care of Sue Savage Rumbaugh. While the board’s announcement stated that the investigation “will be conducted by members of the board, veterinarians and ape welfare experts,” I am unable to find any ape welfare expert who has been asked to participate. Based on letters emanating from the Trust, it appears that recently appointed board member Nancy R. Howell is leading the so-called “investigation” (that is ignoring 99% of the devastating history presented by the Bonobo 12.)
Who is Nancy R. Howell, and what qualifies her to conduct an investigation, even a farcical one, into appropriate ape care and welfare? According to her published papers, Howell peers into the souls of bonobos… But her expertise does not seemed geared toward the very real and practical issues of ape management.
Howell is a professor of theology and philosophy of religion at Saint Paul School of Theology, and is the author of A Feminist Cosmology: Ecology, Solidarity, and Metaphysics. According to Howell’s bio, available on her website (and here in Google Drive), her research interests are “science (primatology, genetics, ecology), philosophy of religion and theology; feminist, womanist, mujerista theory and theology; cultural diversity and philosophy of religion and theology; [and] Whiteheadian philosophy and theology.”
Howell's research interest in primatology is interesting, especially considering that in the entirety of her 17-page resume, she lists no employment in organizations involved in primatology. She lists no education in primatology. She lists memberships in 19 associations but, despite her stated interest in primatology, she lists no memberships in associations related to apes or primatology (even though the Great Ape Trust's IRS Form 990 lists her as a director in 2011.) She lists no professional activities in primatology. Howell’s extensive lists of awards, grants, honors, and recognitions shows nothing related to chimpanzees, apes, bonobos, or primatology.
(Image from The Followers of the
Magical  Monkey Goddess
Her resume does show a proclivity for writing about the spirituality of apes, however. Howell’s prolific writings in the 1980s and 1990s were devoted largely to feminist theology, and the relationship of theology to science. In 2001, she started writing about apes and religion. (See a list of her ape-related articles at the end of this post.) It might be more than coincidence that Howell’s scientific quest to find religious meaning in human kinship with primates fits neatly into Savage-Rumbaugh’s transcendental beliefs about her relationship with bonobos.
Savage-Rumbaugh explained her stream of consciousness connection to bonobos, during an interview on Radiolab. (Listen to the Kanzi segment.) “When I am with bonobos, I feel like I have something that I shared with them long ago, but I forgot,” she says. “As we’ve clothed ourselves and separated ourselves, we’ve gained a wonderful society but we’ve lost the kind of soul-to-soul connection that they maintain. And it sometimes seems to me as though we’re both a kind of a disadvantaged species. They have things that I’ve lost, I have things that they don’t have. I feel like if I could have their abilities, and keep mine, I would be whole.”
Feeling kinship with the apes is common to all ape advocates and ape lovers. Taking it a step further, owners of exotic pets often cite a need for that feeling of “completeness,” wanting their pet chimp or lion to fill a hole in the owner’s emotional life.
In my humble opinion, the immersion of Howell into primate connections with ecofeminist theology lacks the professional underpinnings that are necessary for a review of the practical issues that must be considered for the health and welfare of the bonobos. It is especially troublesome when considered in context with Savage-Rumbaugh’s mysticism. For instance, one has a sneaking suspicion that, when determining whether it was appropriate for Sue to take baby bonobo Teco to be blessed at a public Buddha Relics Tour, Howell might view this religiosity as goodness, regardless of the potential health consequences for Teco.
Howell and Savage-Rumbaugh share a spiritual affinity, with each other and with the apes. That may help their perceptions of their immortal souls, but it may also interfere with an objective and professional investigation that is necessary to help the bonobos at this critical moment.
Howell’s list of ape-related articles and papers (as listed on her resume):
·         “Embodied Transcendence: Bonobos and Humans in Community,” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 44:3 (September 2009): 60-12.
·         “Relations between Homo Sapiens and Other Animals: Scientific and Religious Arguments.” In The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science, ed. Philip Clayton and Zachary Simpson, 945-961. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
·         “The Importance of Being Chimpanzee.” Theology and Science 1:2 (October 2003): 179-191.
·         “A God Adequate for Primate Culture.” Journal of Religion and Society 3 (2001) [journal online]. Available from [Note from Dawn: Disappointingly, this article is no longer on the website.]Internet accessed 2 May 2001.

·         “Chimpanzees, Bonobos, and the Future of Theological Education.” Science and Religion Roundtable Series. St. Andrews Presbyterian College. Laurinburg, NC, March 2009.
·         “God and the Great Apes.” Willson Lecture 2008. Oklahoma City University. Oklahoma City, OK, October 2008.
·         “Embodied Transcendence: Bonobos and Humans in Community.” Science, Technology, and Religion Group and Animals and Religion Group. American Academy of Religion. San Diego, CA, November 2007.
·         “Embodied Transcendence: Bonobos and Humans in Community.” Conference: Visions of Integration II (STARS Grant Conference). James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA, October 2007.
·         “Chimpanzees: The Overlooked Aliens.” University of Great Falls, Great Falls, MT, March 2007.
·         “The Importance of Chimpanzees for Ecofeminist Theology.” Conference: “Exploring the Connections: Process- Relational and Women’s Theologies.” Center for Process Studies. Claremont, CA, April9 May 2004.
·         “Simians, Souls, and Solidarity.” International Conference. Highlands Institute for American Religious and Philosophical Thought. Dobogoku, Hungary, August 2003.
·         A Longing Look at Chimpanzees: Learning about Women through the Eyes of an Other: I. “Seeing the Other Chimpanzee,” II. “Seeing Ourselves in Relation to the Other Chimpanzee,” III. “Seeing Justice for Ourselves and the Other Chimpanzee.” Women’s Dialogue Seminar. Highlands, NC, June 2003.
·         “98% Chimpanzee, 100% Image of God: Embracing Humanity through Kinship with Nature.” Faculty Forum. Saint Paul School of Theology. Kansas City, Mo., May 2003. Fall Symposium: “Becoming Human: Exploring Scientific, Theological, and Biological Issues.” Saint Paul School of Theology. Kansas City, MO September 2003.
·         “98% Chimpanzee, 100% Image of God: Finding Religious Meaning in Human Kinship with Animals.” Kansas City Religion and Science Dialogue Project. Rock Hurst University. Kansas City, MO April 2003.
·         “The Chimpanzee Challenge to Human Uniqueness.” Beck Lecture. Southwestern College. Winfield, KS, February 2003.
·         “An Ecofeminist Stake in Chimpanzees.” Women in Religion, Ethics, and Science: Soul 2 Soul III Conference. Berkeley, CA, April 2002.
·         “The Challenge of Chimpanzees.” Danforth Associates Northwest Conference: What Chimpanzees Can Teach Us about Life, Love, and Learning. Ellensburg, WA, October 2001.
·         “Theology of Sociality and Primate Culture.” Primatology and Human Nature Research Seminar on Sociality. American Association for the Advancement of Science Program of Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion. Washington, DC, January 2001.
·         “Whitehead, Washoe, and Primate Culture.” Center for Process Studies. Claremont, CA January 2001.
·         “A God Adequate for Primate Culture.” Religion and Science Group. American Academy of Religion. Nashville, Tenn., November 2000. Women in Ministry. Saint Paul School of Theology. Kansas City, MO, October 2000.

Stay up to date on developments at the Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope.

Chimp welfare advocates need to lobby Congress for federal funding for new sanctuary space

Yesterday, the National Institutes of Health said they are retiring 110 chimpanzees from research. We have so much to celebrate with that decision. It is, after all, what so many of us are fighting for. Stop using chimps in bioinvasive research! Let these chimpanzees live in peace.
The chimpanzees are being transferred out of the infamous New Iberia Research Center, which is not renewing a federal contract that is expiring in August 2013. (Nature ran a good article on how NIH recently cleared New Iberia of breaking a federal breeding ban, despite 130 infants being born to NIH-owned parents between 2000 and 2010. Those chimpanzees will stay with New Iberia.) Almost immediately, some groups complained that only ten of the chimps were going to Chimp Haven, an accredited sanctuary for retired research chimpanzees. The other chimps will be sent to Texas Biomedical Research Institute a laboratory in San Antonio, Texas. As Humane Society’s Wayne Purcell explains, NIH director Francis Collins told him that “NIH will be classifying all of these chimpanzees as ‘permanently ineligible’ for use in research, so there’s no risk that these chimps moved to Texas would be placed back into research.”
Chimp Haven posted a statement last night, pointing out that “the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection Act of 2000 states that federal chimpanzees no longer used in research be retired to the National Chimpanzee Sanctuary, which is operated by Chimp Haven.” They acknowledge, however, that while they have room for 20 of the New Iberia chimps, any additional space is only partially constructed. I imagine they ran out of money.
So, where will Chimp Haven, or any sanctuary, get the money to build new sanctuary space for these chimpanzees, and for the others who will hopefully be retired soon? Unless chimpanzee welfare advocates act, federal funding options look bleak, at least for the near future.

Last June, I wrote a blog post asking what do we do with the lab chimps? While I join so many who lament the slow process of saving these chimps, I have to admit that the answer to my question may ultimately rest on the shoulders of a working group, set up by NIH, to consider the fate of a thousand chimpanzees. They will make recommendations to NIH in January, and hopefully one of those recommendations will be to send the research chimpanzees to sanctuaries and zoos around the country. But even if NIH anticipated those recommendations, it is highly doubtful that they can start sending money to groups now, to build new housing or sanctuary space. (Let me add a caveat here, that NIH may indeed have a cache of cash somewhere, that could be used for construction, but I don’t know about it. Knowing the funding shortfalls that federal agencies are currently working under, however, I think it is highly doubtful.)

As I understand it, Congress must decide whether to pay for new sanctuary space. Congress can eternally tell agencies to “perform [name the function]," but it is the appropriations legislation that funds it -- and without money, agencies cannot do what Congress directed them to do. I've seen cases where the agency asks for funds for an activity required by a law or regulation, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) knocks it out of the President's budget request. Or it is in there, but Congress decides to cut funding. Or a whole host of other scenarios. But the point is that advocates must FIGHT FOR THE MONEY.
The federal budget process is arcane and complex. But let’s look at the status of the budget for NIH and other agencies...
NIH’s part of the federal budget is discretionary; that is, Congress must approve and renew funding each year in order to continue agency operations. The federal fiscal year 2013 starts on October 1, and when Congress fails to pass appropriation bills that provide funding for federal agencies, they enact a "continuing resolution.” A CR allows the government to temporarily continue operating at the previous year's funding levels. As Fox News reports (do they deliberately misspell the President’s name?), Congress just enacted a CR that funds NIH and the rest of the federal government at 2012 levels. No new spending until Congress passes (and the President signs) appropriation bills, and that won't happen until next spring, at the earliest.
For now, unless funding for building new sanctuary space was included in the 2012 budget (which is about to expire), it isn’t covered in the CR, and there will be no new or increased funding until Congress passes the 2013 budget.
Now, will NIH ask for funding for new sanctuary space? That, it seems to me, is within the purview of the Working Group on the Use of Chimpanzees in NIH Research. I don’t see how they can fail to recommend it, but even if they do, the earliest budget would be for fiscal year 2014. Stay with me here…
The working group’s recommendations are due in January. We may think there is plenty of time for the President to include any funding requests in his annual detailed budget proposal for fiscal year 2014, usually delivered in February, but, in fact, the process of assembling the 2014 budget is already well underway. (Federal agencies are making their case NOW, internally within the Administration, for budgets that will begin in October 2014.) Unless NIH is asking for the funds before they officially receive the working group’s recommendations, funding for new sanctuary space will not be in the President’s budget request.
Regardless of whether NIH asks for the funding, or whether the President includes it in his budget request, Congress has to appropriate it. And here is where the ape welfare advocacy is, so far, lamentably missing in action.
Last spring I met with former congressional appropriations staff members. No animal welfare advocacy group had come to them to discuss funding, they said. They hear from the groups that get federal money, but rarely from any advocacy groups. Maybe things have changed since these staffers left Congress and turned into lobbyists, but I haven’t seen it. For the most part, animal welfare organizations go all out asking for support for this bill or that bill, and focus on public hearings for substantive legislation , but they aren’t involved in the process that counts: deciding who gets the money, and how much, and for what purpose.
So, what do we do? I strongly recommend that chimpanzee welfare advocates join forces and hire a lobbyist who can work with the complex appropriation process. Sanctuaries and the animal welfare organizations need to make sure that increasingly scarce federal funds get to NIH so construction can begin in earnest. I understand that many advocacy groups are not allowed to spend money to lobby Congress. So maybe it is time to start a new organization, specifically and solely focused on political and legislative advocating for the chimpanzees, with the moral backing of the great ape community. It is never too early to start. In fact, we are running late.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Keep up-to-date on developments at Bonobo Hope

Bonobo fans may be confused about this organization. At various points in their fundraising stunts, this organization has been known as the Great Ape Trust. It also does business as Bonobo Hope. It also does business as the Iowa Primate Research Sanctuary -- which is at least 50 percent correct since it is in Iowa and and it does have primates. Research and sanctuary? Not so much. Lately, they started up a, to leverage the tragic death of one of their bonobos into yet another fundraising scheme.

Background on Savage-Rumbaugh’s current suspension
This latest chapter in the ongoing 30+ year saga with the research bonobos started out of the public eye, in mid-December, 2011. Because of a myriad of concerns and objections about Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, employees resigned from Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary, en masse. Before it was all over, eight caregivers, one accountant, three public safety officers, one public relations director, and two directors plus all interns walked out.

Savage-Rumbaugh was appointed executive director. The reason, according to board chair Ken Schweller, was because she was the star fundraiser. And boy, did they need funds! They were on the brink of collapse. Broke.

While the board and Savage-Rumbaugh caromed from one preposterous publicity ploy to the next, rumors started surfacing about what was really happening at the Great Ape Trust. Ex-employees started to contact me, explaining how things really were. I blogged about the stuff I learned, and encouraged anyone who contacted me to “come out.” But they had careers in front of them and had seen Savage-Rumbaugh and her acolytes retaliate against people who disagreed with her. (I can attest to that!) They needed time to talk things out.

On September 9, 2012, the “Bonobo 12” wrote to the Great Ape Trust Board of Directors with their concerns. On September 10, after getting the brushoff from the board, they went public.

Several ape professionals attempted to reach out to board members and Savage-Rumbaugh, to help them find a way out of the morass, apparently with little success. Sometime after September 26, two prestigious board members -- Ed Wasserman and Paul Lasley -- reportedly resigned from the board. 

The Great Ape Trust board of directors met on October 4

People who want to see the bonobos in a safe and nurturing environment are trying to stay on top of developments at Bonobo Hope (aka all the other names). I will try to keep this post updated with the latest news. If you know of additional information on the Web, please let me know at, or comment below. (PS, please keep comments on-topic.)

More than a month after the board of directors were to decide on the fate of the bonobos, the board members have evidently failed to act. While they twiddled their fingers, the bonobos have started to die -- exactly what the Bonobo 12 feared and warned the board about. Panbanisha died in the early morning of November 6, according to "suspended" director Savage-Rumbaugh. 

The board of directors change focus from research to exhibition

Descending from the ridiculous to the absurd, the board has decided to double-down on the circus aspect of the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary (aka Bonobo Hope aka Great Ape Trust) that isn't a sanctuary at all. On November 13, they evidently got unofficial word from a friendly USDA inspector that the agency was granting their application for a license to exhibit the bonobos. This wasn't completely unexpected, since they had been parlaying Panbanisha's tragic death into a fundraiser for a visitor's center before Panbanisha's body was even cold. 

We should also pay attention to the current makeup of the board (if they ever decide to come out from behind the curtain), as I've heard that several have left, only to be replaced by members of Savage-Rumbaugh's family. (Has her son joined her sister and niece on the board?) No wonder this board is a mere conduit for Savage-Rumbaugh's fantasies.

And while we're talking about fantasies... How about the one for turning the former research facility into an artist colony, as they proposed in their application for a grant from an Iowa race track and casino? 

From the Bonobo 12 (former caregivers, researchers, and colleagues who are speaking up about conditions at the facility)

Information from Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope

Blog posts and articles by others
Great Ape Trust abuse allegations are detailed, by Perry Beeman, Des Moines Register, September 14, 2012
Iowa Bonobo Sanctuary Mired in Controversy, by Elizabeth Pennisi, Science Insider, September 18, 2012
Behind the Curtain, by Beth Dalbey, West Des Moines Patch, September 21, 2012
Troubled ape facility reinstates controversial researcher, by Kate Wong, Scientific American, November 21, 2012
Savage-Rumbaugh returns to ape sanctuary, by Perry Beeman, Des Plaines Register, November 20, 2012

Related blog posts on Chimp Trainer’s Daughter

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It's the bonobos, stupid!

Recent media interviews with Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, the suspended executive director at Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary, reveal the board of director’s game plan for avoiding the tough issues publicly posed last week by a group of ex-employees and researchers. The Bonobo 12 whistleblowers say the bonobos are not safe while they are under the care of Savage-Rumbaugh, but Sue and the board of directors are restricting the mockery of an “investigation” to what the individuals personally saw since Sue officially became director in January. It is a cynical reformulation of the issue since they know damned well that most of the Bonobo 12 left in December.
This almost mocking tactic swallowed whole by Savage-Rumbaugh’s cheerleaders in the Des Moines media attempts to the reframe serious issues that have followed Savage-Rumbaugh’s career through the decades.
Does the board truly believe that the problem is Savage-Rumbaugh’s executive management skills? Do they think this will be solved by sending her to remedial management training? I am so sorry  that this appears to be developing into the epitome of that stupid artwork showing chimps in poses covering their eye, ears, and mouth. Except that it is the board members, not chimpanzees, striking the poses.

Pay attention folks. This isn’t about Sue’s eight-month reign as director. It is about the welfare of the bonobos who have been her responsibility for years. To borrow some phrasing of a raging campaign manager: it’s the bonobos, stupid!
Sue's responsibility for the bonobos didn’t start in January. For those who aren’t aware of Savage-Rumbaugh’s long involvement, here’s a brief rundown, as best I can figure…
Savage-Rumbaugh began her work in primatology and language at the University of Oklahoma, working with Roger Fouts in the infamous language studies. (See Project Nim, now available in DVD, for more on that.) She completed her doctorate there in 1975. Then she went to work at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center at Georgia State University.
Five years later, on October 28, 1980, bonobo Kanzi was born to Lorel at Yerkes. The story is that within half an hour of his birth, another female, Matata, took Kanzi from his mother while she slept. Matata already had an infant (Akili), but she refused to give Kanzi back to Lorel.
In 1981, Georgia State University established the Language Research Center (LRC), and Duane M. Rumbaugh was the founding director. (He is currently Regents Professor Emeritus.) Matata, Kanzi and Savage-Rumbaugh moved to LRC, and Lorel and Akili were separated from their child and mother, respectively, and sent to the San Diego Zoo.
Savage-Rumbaugh and her bonobos developed quite a reputation while they were at LRC. Reportedly, Atlanta police were called a number of times to track down the rambunctious apes, who had escaped. And controversy started brewing over Sue’s outrĂ© “bi-cultural rearing.”
(By the way, I don’t see much difference between hoity toity "bi-cultural rearing" and raising an ape as a pet or performance ape. It seems the main difference is that Savage-Rumbaugh, with three letters behind her name (Ph.D), gets paid handsomely to do it, and others are castigated. Just as in pet and performance situations, Sue’s baby bonobos are pulled, albeit not with a dart gun, from their mother. As an anonymous expert explained as a comment to a blog post, “no ape mother voluntarily gives away her baby to hang out with humans. Ask any former LRC worker just exactly how Sue gets those babies away from their mothers... It is not pretty folks. Trickery and bribery are used.”)
In 2004, business leader Ted Townsend started the Great Ape Trust of Iowa. (I love an exchange with Rob Shumaker, one of the primary GATI scientists, reported by Jon Cohen in his fascinating book, Almost Chimpanzee. Jon writes that the Great Ape Trust “had created a home for a group of orphan investigators, who fed off one another.” Then he quotes Shumaker: “It’s not really a sanctuary for the apes. It’s a sanctuary for the researchers.”)
[NOTE: I corrected this paragraph after I published the original post.] Savage-Rumbaugh joined Great Ape Trust in 2005. When she moved to GATI, she brought Kanzi, Matata, her daughter Panbanisha with her sons Nathan and Nyoto, and Elikya and her son Maisha, as well as wild-born P-suke. In 2010, Elikya gave birth to Teco at the Great Ape Trust. The anonymous expert commenter states that Teco is inbred. Was Kanzi Elikya's father? (Help, does someone have a studbook I can borrow?!?)
[NOTE: I added this paragraph after I published the original post.] "If Teco is inbred, it isn't because Kanzi is Elikya's father, but rather because both Nyota and Maisha copulated with her throughout that time," explains one of the Bonobo 12. "When Sue talked about Matata's incestuous mating to the Des Moines Register, that occurred in 2007, but not with one of her sons. It more than likely happened with Nyota, her grandson. This was a significant contributing factor to Sue's first ouster that same year. The recent incestuous mating we noted in our Sept. 14th statement was Panbanisha's."

Or... see the first comment, in the comment section below, for other options on who was bred with who. 

Sheesh, no wonder Great Ape Trust is no longer accredited by the Association of Zoo and Aquariums. (More on that in another blog.) Got it all straight now? Me, neither. To continue...
“Kanzi should have been vas clipped [vasectomy] many years ago as per SSP rec's" [Bonobo Species Survival Plan recommendations, which support the genetic diversity of the captive population of endangered bonobos], the commenter explains. “His genetics are over-represented globally. If he is breeding that is a huge mistake, if Teco is inbred that is another huge mistake. He is not autistic, but instead shows neurotic behavior often seen in nursery reared ape infants.”

So, here we are. P-suke died of heart failure due to complications with anesthesia in summer of 2006. Nathan died of lymphoma in 2009. Matata, Kanzi, Panbanisha, Maisha, Nyota, Elikya, and Teco all live together in Des Moines at the Great Ape Trust, under the care of Sue and her sister. Savage-Rumbaugh has been the highest paid employee at Great Ape Trust, at least since 2009, earning a six-figure salary. They aren’t paying her for her executive skills. Ostensibly, they are paying her because she is doing her bi-cultural thing (is anyone else grossed out when she says the apes try to get in the bathtub with her?), raising the bonobos as non-human non-apes. And doing a damn poor job of it, if the allegations by the Bonobo 12, and others, are true.
This problem didn’t start in January, and the board of directors knows that. Savage-Rumbaugh has held sway over the bonobo laboratory protocols and bonobo care since she arrived at the Great Ape Trust, and it is that continuing management that is in question, regardless of her title. Let me repeat it again, for those on the board who don’t seem to get it: The issues are the long-simmering and growing problems evidenced by Sue’s handling of the bonobos.
The Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope Board of Directors needs to make sure the "investigation" run by Savage-Rumbaugh friend and ecofeminist cosmologist Nancy Howell stops with the game playing. They need to get serious. Tens of thousands of people people who care about apes are reading the posts in this blog. They are watching, as any remaining trace of integrity at the Great Ape Trust is irretrievably lost.

Want to add to this story? Let us know in comments or send an email to the Dawn at

For more information, see our Bonobo Hope post.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Happy birthday dad. I hate you, I love you.

A couple of days ago, I was talking to a reporter who is writing about the Great Ape Trust debacle. She had read a couple of my blog posts, and she wanted to know why I got involved, why I was blogging about the bonobos. "Are you concerned about conditions for captive apes?" she asked. Yes I am... just like the readers who come to the blog to catch up on the latest news out of Iowa. We all care. We all remember the first time we looked into an ape's eyes and recognized the depth of intelligence looking back at us. At that moment, we felt our kinship.

My moment happened because of my father. I fight for the apes because of what he taught me, good and bad. So I hope you'll forgive me for taking a day to reflect on the contradictions that still define my relationship with him. Even though he died 45 years ago, I want to send him this letter:

Happy birthday, dad. If you were still living, you’d be 88 years old tomorrow. Maybe it’s time you and I sorted out some things. Like how I hate you. And love you.
I hate you for your cruelty to animals, and how you would kill them for no reason. The snapping turtle in the bog, my kitten, probably my Easter chick… I hate you for using violence to “train” who knows how many of the 70+ Detroit Zoo chimps who came through the program while you were there. Did you enjoy hitting them, or was that just the accepted practice?… I hate you for your alcoholism, and for your drug use. I especially hate you for how I didn’t understand what booze and pills were doing to you, and because I didn’t know how to stop it... I hate you for the raging arguments at home. There was so much hatred between you and mom, and it wasn't fair that we kids had to suffer for it… I hate you for punching my kid brother and hitting mom, and for terrorizing the rest of us. I hate that I had to try to stop you, and that I rarely succeeded... Most of all, I hate you for killing yourself, and for doing it in front of me. That was proof to me, once and for all time, that you hated me back.
I love you for bringing chimpanzees into my life. Being the daughter of a chimp trainer, and being with you and the chimps at the Detroit Zoo, was magical. Despite your brutal training methods, I know you loved those chimpanzees… I love you for encouraging my love of animals. Do you remember the tiny tree toad that I took with us on a trip up north? You built a cross of Popsicle sticks for its funeral when it died… I love you for the times you stood up for me. No second grade teacher was going to turn me into a right-hander… I love you for being fun. My ribs hurt, just remembering the tickle sessions. And dancing the Twist with you on New Year’s Eve made me feel special... I love you because I am beginning to understand your childhood with alcoholic parents. Something happened to you, so that the Marines refused to take you in 1942 because, they said, you had PTSD. You were only 17 years old, and life was working against you from the beginning… Strangely, I have even learned to love you – mournfully but truly – for choosing your own escape from whatever demons were tormenting you. You finally and forever stopped your pain and, no matter how much it hurt me, I really can’t hate you for that.
Dad, there’s no one left who remembers your birthday. Your sisters are all dead. Mom never forgave you, and now she is gone, too. Art, the son you loved and abused, is gone – following in your dark footsteps. The other kids hardly remember you, and most of their memories are bad ones. I have those memories too, but, this year, I choose to remember the love. I want to honor that love. The best way I can think to do that, is to help the chimps you would have loved if you were still here. So, in your memory, I am making a contribution to the Center for Great Apes, a sanctuary for rescued chimpanzees and orangutans.
Happy birthday, dad. After all is said and done, I love you.


Friday, September 14, 2012

The Bonobo 12 pull back the curtain at the Great Ape Trust

I cannot believe all of this was happening under the noses of the Great Ape Trust (aka Bonobo Hope, aka Iowa Primate Research Foundation) Board of Directors. 
The Bonobo 12, the people who have been warning the Board of Directors of the Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope about the potential dangers of leaving the bonobos in the care of suspended director Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, tonight sent a detailed letter to ape welfare advocates across the country. The letter is specific in its allegations against Savage-Rumbaugh, and details how people have been warned, time and again, about the… what? I don’t even know what to call the insane lack of care. It’s beyond that. The record, as presented by the Bonobo 12, details flagrant acts that resulted in surgeries, emergency vet calls, danger, and fear.
I’ve posted the Bonobo 12’s full Sept 14 statement on Google Docs. Please take some time to read it carefully.
If you don’t have time to get to it now, bookmark it.

As part of their documentation, the Bonobo 12 included copies of documents in the PDF. Just to give you a small sample of the alleged conduct by Savage-Rumbaugh, let me highlight lowlight some of the malfeasance cited in a November 9, 2011, memo that former Great Ape Trust director William Fields wrote to Savage-Rumbaugh, informing her of the reasons why her research protocol for the bi-cultural rearing of bonobo infant Teco was not accepted. Some of his points:
“My office is most concerned with protocols that detail how Nyota and Maisha (who have suffered significant injuries that required surgical intervention) will be managed within the experimental and control groups that are created by you or staff as a function of your research with Baby Teco. My office is most concerned about the recent events dated 7/7/11 with Maisha that required surgery on 7/10/11 and the events that led to Nyota’s surgery dated 8/24/11.”
Concern is growing over the welfare
of bonobo baby Teco, shown in this
publicity shot with Savage-Rumbaugh
“My office is concerned with the incident of Teco’s vomiting and diarrhea dated 10/8/11. The staff report that you attributed this event to the consumption of non-organic baby food. The laboratory reports reveal that Teco consumed old food, rotten vegetable, candle-wax, adult vitamins, instant caffeinated coffee, energy supplement drinks, and artificial sweeteners contemporary with Teco’s vomiting and diarrhea dated 10/8/11.”
“Please describe how you will insure that Teco does not consume drugs intended for other apes... My office is particularly concerned about the consumption of antibiotics intended for adult apes. Employees expressed concern regarding this matter on 8/29/11.”
“Please address the issue of exposure to material safety in the laboratory as you proceed with human enculturation practices with baby Teco. Please describe how you will secure personal toiletry items to prevent Baby Teco from exposure to chemicals such as zinc pyrithione and antifungal and antibacterial agents. For example, Head and Shoulder Shampoo, Baby Teco was exposed on 7/31/11, which required medical attention.”
“My office is particularly concerned about the events of 11/1/11 in which... apes were left with access to the outdoors overnight (East Electric Play Yards.) You left campus 11/2/11 at 5:28 AM and did not return until 10:55 AM 11/3/11.”
“My office is particularly concerned about the instance that occurred on 7/8/11 in which the staff found ‘A light in Sue’s room got turned on under a blanket and it trapped the heat and cause the lamp to melt and the blanket to burn/smoke.’ Fortunately, the staff was able to catch the situation before it was out of hand.”
“My office is most concerned regarding a report in which a Simpson Student was asked to throw a bucket water on an ape in response to ape spitting...  My office is particularly concerned about the day involving a Simpson student, Stephanie Perkins, and Andrea Jackson on April 22, 2011 in which the student left the lab rather than throw water on Nyota.”
“If baby Teco is going to have contact with the dogs, (a) please explain how you will insure the dogs receive water and food during the period of time they are in your care and (b) if you intend to create ape and dog groups, please explain how you intend to protect the dogs and apes when aggression arises. My office is most concerned with the most recent instance that occurred on 10/25/11 where the dogs were left in a cage without water.”
This is just a sampling, but you get the drift.
William Fields resigned from the Great Ape Trust soon after he wrote that document. And despite all of this and more the Board of Directors made Sue Savage-Rumbaugh director, and gave her all the authority to run the place as she wished.
By the way, those dogs that were left in a cage without water? They must be okay because, according to the Bonobo 12, Savage-Rumbaugh “suggested to staff that the puppies on campus were beginning to speak English.” They probably picked it up from Kanzi, Sue’s talking ape.
But I shouldn’t make light of a horrible situation. You must read the September 14 statement to fully grasp the enormity of the problem that has not only continued to fester under this board of directors, but has grown ever more rampant directly under their oblivious noses.

We wouldn't have known any of it if 12 brave people hadn't pulled back the curtain. But we know, now, what is behind that curtain, don't we? Even Toto could tell us (surely he speaks English too...) that the wizard is always a fraud.

For more information, see our Bonobo Hope post.