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)
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 http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2001-4a/2001.html. [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.
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