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


  1. Has anybody tried to get the state or federal governments involved or started a petition to bring more attention to this situation?

  2. I hope to hear more about what the ethicist concludes..that's an interesting move, and timely I feel.

  3. I'm a sympathetic layperson (not involved with ape care or research at all) who found my way to your blog after watching Project Nim last night. I must admit I was previously taken in by GAT (although Sue did always seem a bit weird even in media interviews), so I'm very sorry to read how the bonobos have actually suffered there. Even before I watched the documentary I knew the Nim experiment (not to mention his life) did not end well, but as an academic in another field I was certain we'd moved beyond that sort of self-serving cruelty.

    So this is just to thank you and let you know that you are getting through to people like me who just thought Teco was cute, but also to ask if you have a list of reputable sanctuaries and other organizations that you recommend supporting. I live in Louisiana and am familiar with Chimp Haven--they're OK, right?! :) I've got your sidebar links to ChimpCARE, etc open already and plan to go explore those now, so maybe I'll find what I'm looking for there.

    1. Maren, as you can imagine, anyone can call themselves a "sanctuary," but it is very hard for the public to judge. So I rely on accreditation by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (found at They are the only organization with the power to hold sanctuaries to high sanctuary-appropriate standards.