Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bonobo Hope's Savage-Rumbaugh placed on administrative leave, Des Moines Register reports

Is the Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate Research Foundation board of directors finally on a rational path that will lead to appropriate care, and a more bonobo-centric life, for their apes? Is the board ready to consider the needs of the apes rather than the whims of their star fundraiser and her sidekick? (Is the board ready to find ONE NAME for the organization??)
The current management at Bonobo Hope
evidently  allows children of volunteers
to play in the animal cages.
The latest word, coming from Des Moines Register reporter Perry Beeman, is that the board has put Sue Savage-Rumbaugh on administrative leave. No word, yet, on who will be managing the place in Sue’s absence, but I hope it isn’t the same manager who allows children of volunteers to play inside the animal cages.


Truly, it isn’t because Savage-Rumbaugh sees a clinical psychologist (as she revealed in the Register article) that causes observers to question whether her bonobo management is rational. (I support people who seek psychological or psychiatric help, who have the heart and the courage to deal with the problems that plague them. I know what they suffer.) I have blogged repeatedly about Sue’s mismanagement of the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary dba Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope and Clown Circus, because I was horrified to learn how she treats the bonobos. I object strenuously to the basic premise of her operations, of taking ape babies away from mothers so she can raise them “bi-culturally,” not completely ape and never human. I categorically disagree with her misguided attempts to get bonobos to talk, as humans, rather than listen to them as bonobos.
Apes need care from people who respect who they are, not from those who wish the apes were some sort of weird fulfillment of what that person lacks. Bonobos don’t exist to fill a hole in a pseudo-researcher’s soul.
In today’s Des Moines Register article and update about the open letter from the former employees and associates at Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope, Savage-Rumbaugh charged that the pleas from those employees, calling for the public’s help, were merely the whines of disgruntled employees. Her allegation was the classic fallback of any manager who is confronted with the truth-tellers and whistleblowers who decide to speak up. I know that this group struggled with these issues for many months, and I celebrate their decision to risk Savage-Rumbaugh’s well-known vindictiveness, to do what is right for the apes. Bravo for the truth-tellers!
There are actually more who support the former employees who warned that the apes are in danger if Savage-Rumbaugh remains in place. As one former employee (who didn’t sign this week’s letter) wrote in an email to the board last December:
“For 10 years I've helped create Great Ape Trust and assist Dr. Sue. I've seen her manipulation and deceitfulness for too many years. Under her watch, we've had an ape escape and ape attacks...one to a graduate student, the other to a caretaker. Both required medical attention...in both cases Sue and Duane wanted it kept quiet. She disregards protocols and puts people in harm's way. There is always someone else to blame for her failings...for the reasons no productive research has been conducted. Her destructive behavior helped destroy this organization and I can no longer be part of Great Ape Trust as long as she is associated with it.”
None of what is in the former employees’ September 10 letter is news to the Iowa Primate Learning Center Board of Directors. They’ve heard it and disregarded it for at least nine months. Why have they ignored the warnings coming from professionals who work in and around the ape facilities? Maybe it is because, with one exception, none of the board members have a background with ape care, with facility management, or with nonprofit organizations. They are largely academic, with a couple of businesspeople. These directors, who closed their eyes and ears, are ultimately responsible for the debacle that is the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary and Bonobo Hope Initiative, Inc.
  • 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 at 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 
State attorneys general across the country are stepping up when boards fail. In May, the New York attorney general sued Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s directors to force their removal. If this board of directors doesn’t make serious plans for the bonobos' future, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller needs to file a lawsuit against them.
I desperately hope we are not going to sit around while options run out for the bonobos. I want to believe this board of directors will respond to the people who publicly spoke up, and will provide a rational path forward. Sometime before 7:45 tonight, eastern daylight time, they told the Register reporter that they were placing Savage-Rumbaugh on administrative leave. It is now 10 pm and, from what I've been able to learn, they haven’t even given the former employees a courtesy call. They haven’t responded to my request for a statement. Maybe it’s because they are too busy making arrangements for the care of the bonobos, but I tend to think not, because they did find time to arrange for television interviews tonight, to manage the bad publicity. Yeah, their priorities are still clear.
In the meantime, if you see one of the principled people who publicly stood up for the apes -- I am dubbing them "The Bonobo 12" -- you should give them a hearty thanks for taking a courageous stand.
Megan Buecher, Jen Draiss, Mike German, Andrea Jackson, Tyler Kasperbauer, Susannah Maisel, Jackie Mobley, Stephanie Musgrave, Daniel Musgrave, Janni Pedersen, Tyler Romine, Heather Taylor

Update, September 12:
Some supporters of Savage-Rumbaugh have joined her in casting aspersions on The Bonobo 12. It should be noted that board members, who are and who have been informed about the concerns, are not among the critics.
On September 10, Ursula Goodenough responded to the letter from The Bonobo 12. "Thank you very much for this. Speaking as a member of the board's executive committee, I can say that we are very mindful of the current situation and are taking action on an immediate basis," she wrote in an email. "We may well call on you and your group down the road for support, and meanwhile, we are grateful for your articulate and appropriate expressions of concern." 
Of course, The Bonobo 12 and others have heard similar bromides from the board. After conducting hours of interviews with staff who brought their concerns to the board in December 2012, board president Ken Schweller informed them that "we are inviting Heidi Lynn in to relieve Carl and serve as transition director while we begin a nationwide search for a full time director." Why did they keep Sue in place? "We are giving Sue the status she needs to raise money so we don't go out of business. We will continue to address the very real issues between staff and Sue as best we can."
It is clear the board did little or nothing during the nine months since that email to employees. But realizing the staff was about to walk out, Ken told them "if events separate us in the future you have my promise I will support you whole-heartedly by letter or interview as a reference if you seek other employment."
***
For more information, see our Bonobo Hope post.

38 comments:

  1. Thank you for posting the names of board members. Those responsible for the treatment of these bonobos should be accountable, especially Savage-Rumbaugh. Her management of their care is shameful at best.

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    1. The board has been informed of the global plight of the bonobo species. The entire board has ignored and chose to not listen to the rest of the world. Maybe they felt there was some status of being on a scientific advisory board. Guess what? They are really on a board that supports ownership of apes by private individuals, pulling babies from mothers, inbreeding, apes running in hallways, talking bonobos, robobonobos, poor management practices, and bonobos making hamburgers on a grill. Shame on all of you. We are all watching and hope that you open your eyes and ears.

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    2. I would hope the board knows about the global plight of bonobos! On the other hand, according to their tax returns, they send hundreds of thousands of dollars to Africa every year, to "enlist and connect lands to save CHIMPANZEES of the Gishwati Forest." (I added the caps.)
      2009 $142,689
      2010 $233,121
      2011 $233,121

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    3. Shouldn't board members be held personally liable for letting this situation go on? It sound like they knew full well that the bonobos could be in danger because of the director's erratic behavior, but thought her stature was the only way to attract funds. Shame on them for putting money over ape welfare. They're just as culpable if something happens to these wonderful beings.

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    4. Guess what? The board has actually never met.

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  2. Let me just say as a formor employee of the Trust from 2004 to 2010 or mid 2011,.. most of the things listed in the letter and in this blog are Ture. When I left the Trust,.. I left due to my hours being cut and I found another full-time job. I do not have any bad feelings due to Sue and I don't think she ever had any peoblems with me as well,.. so by me saying this is not because I "want to get back at Sue" or anything like that.. I have nothing to gain by this... but most of the thing are true. I kind of question why it took the people in this letter to wait this long,.. because a lot of this stuff had been going on for YEARS! Before Bill, and even before Jim.. I can tell you that I PERSONALY dealt with a cover up of an ape who hurt an employee and I wanted nothing to do with it,.. I filed my report and I can also tell you,.. the Polk Co. Sheriff office was also invloed in this as well... as stated above, there was cover up's at the Trust, not only by Sue and Duane, but also by some of the upper people as well because I know these "upper" people knew what was going on and they looked the other way as well.. but anyways, I could go on forever.. but as I said,.. I question some of the people who signed this letter and thier ethics.. but I will not go in to that.. Something I would also like someone to look in to is the INSURANCE money that was paid to the Trust back in it flooded. Where did all that money go?.. SO many questions.. it's sad to see what this place is now.. because it could of been something really good for the Des Moines area.. but due to greed of MANY people who were in charge.. its become what you see today.. So for the people who were in charge of this place before Bill,... I would feel very, very bad if I was you.. its sad, because you will not hear from these past leaders and how much they were milking the Trust.. but hay,.. I guess what ever makes you sleep better at night.. bottom line,.. the ape's need to be moved and put in a place where they can be around people an other apes..

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    1. You raise an interesting question about the insurance money. Their 2009 tax return reports revenue of $245,686 as "gain due to flooding, net of recoveries." I'm not very good at tax returns -- doesn't "net" mean that is what they ended up with AFTER they repaired things? Under expenses, they report spending $120,883 for "building & grounds" and $22,198 for "equipment expenses." Some of the money may have gone into their savings, which was $415,335 at the beginning of the year and $593,074 at the end of the year. (BTW, by the end of year in 2011, savings were reported at $148,665, a drop of $444,409.) Someone with more expertise than I have will need to look at the tax returns to figure things out!

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    2. Just curious, if most of the things that have been said or reported about GAT are true, why do you "question some of the people who signed this letter and thier ethics?"

      I think the group who signed that letter did so in the best intrests of the Bonobos. I am sure that there is more to the GAT story, but I'm not sure why you would question the individuals who signed this letter and their ethics. Please explain.

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  3. Let me also add... this is not the first time Sue has been placed on leave.. at one point she could not come close to the Trust with out Bill, Jim, being on campus.. as I said,.. so much to this place that people have no clue about..

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    1. There is so much about the last 25 years that people are clueless about. Why do you think GSU/LRC was HOT to see her go bye bye?

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    2. Sue is a sick vindictive woman who can damage your professional reputation for life. Without this blog things would not be unraveling so fast. Without the internet and speed of communication there would never be such focus on GAT. The number of hits on this site is impressive. The people who signed off on this letter are not rich people by any means..those crooks left before the ship was sinking. They bailed to save their reputations. Once the dust settles, those who signed this letter will be first to be hired by other places housing primates. Your honesty speaks for itself. No worries about future employment.

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  4. Dawn,.. what I would really like to see is what the Trust said they replaced due to the flood with the insurance money and in truth,.. they did not replace it... not saying this happened.. but in my gut,.. I think it did. If you would like me to pass some of this stuff on to you, let me know and I will send you an email with my information so you can contact me.

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    1. Check out the money for the Gishwati Forest project-that was screwed up as well. Federal monies had to be payed BACK. It's all smoke and mirrors folks.

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    2. Since you are anonymous (really, this blog doesn't allow anyone to see anonymous commenters' names, not even me as blog administrator), I can't let you know! If anyone has additional information they'd like to share, please send an email to chimptrainersdaughter@gmail.com. I promise to keep your name confidential.

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  5. Looks like the vultures are circling. The former caretakers are well intentioned. Other cling-on former employees are looking for their 15 mintues of fame. Bottom line, SSP needs to step in and somehow keep this family of bonobos intact.

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    1. The board needs to ask for SSP help. This organization is not a swat team with legal power. Remember..GAT pulled themselves out of the SSP and the lost AZA status. Unless the board gets their act together soon-time is of the essence-the SSP just sits and waits. remember: GAT/HOPE/LRC has been one drama after another for 30 years. SSP institutions housing bonobos have waited for years, they have real jobs, bonobos to tend to, and other SSP breedings to accomplish. This GATI debacle is being watched internationally. What a SH** SHOW!

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  6. I was a volunteer living on-campus. I actually left early - 2.5 months early - because of Sue(I left about a week ago and may or may not have been the cause of this hubbub. pride). Let me just say that as a teenager, choosing to live at home, with my parents, with no job and no friends and nothing to do, rather than work with apes all day and play with a baby bonobo, must imply extremely unsuitable working conditions.

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    1. With all due respect: what you just said a lot about the GAT. Teco is being hand raised because Sue pulled him from his mother with a planned in breeding so she could have another baby to play with. He is not autistic, but instead is showing the effects of hand rearing-neurotic movements, thumb sucking, etc. This is classic behavior. For insurance reasons a volunteer should never be handling an ape..it it is very dangerous. Bi cultural rearing has been banned globally and hand rearing of an ape infant should only occur if the mother or infant is very sick and needs medical. Only then it should be for a short amount of time until mother and infant can be reunited. Should a mother reject her baby or die it is critical that the infant go to ANOTHER lactating female bonobo anywhere in the US. Teco is ruined for life. The cultural patterns of the bonobo are learned from being with the mother bonobo. If the infant does not get this early mothering from it's own species there will be damage. Mental damage that lasts a lifetime. Both of the males at GAT should not have sired this infant!!!!!!! Kanzi was supposedly vas clipped years ago and the other male would result in an inbreeding. Hmmmmmm.

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    2. That is the rumor around Des Moines, that Teco is not Kanzi's son at all, but more likely the son of a brother, Maisha, or a cousin, Nyota. Sounds better to say he's the son of the smartest bonobo in the world, doesn't it

      This, and the fact that Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh is taking him around town to be blessed at public ceremonies, is disturbing. I hope the SSP, AZA and USDA are listening.

      Also, what did Sue mean in the interview on television when she said she sleeps and bathes with the bonobos? Should we be taking that literally, and if that's the case, hasn't she stepped way over a line?

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    3. Sue meant what she said.

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    4. I've heard rumors of much worse things than baths...

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    5. Yes, it has been heard by all. So..clearly GAT does what it wants to when it wants to.Clearly the board does not care, understand, or is just sitting there hoping it gets better. Bathing with a bonobo is not OK, little babies need constant mothering. They cannot be left alone. Sleeping with the infant Teco is a by product of pulling the infant from it's mother so Sue has a baby. CREEPY. When a baby needs human intervention the goal is to make it for as short a time as possible until it can get back with it's bonobo mother. This is usually done during illness. This bi cultural rearing bullshit is going on for as long as possible to fill a psychological need of Sue. Teco needs genetic analysis done, a mother and a normal bonobo troop. No other bonobo holding facility does the bizarre behavior that GAT does daily. The entire scientific community is watching this debacle, the zoo community is watching, sanctuary people are watching, and still Sue is there 5 hours a day??? Really?? How sad that Sue is once again eating up everyone's valuable time with her circus freak show. She has all the attention which of course is very rewarding. Like an addict she will strike again. To the board: GROW A PAIR!! Get all those wackos out of there and quickly do health assessments and relocate these bonobos in hopes that they can be rehabilitated. The professional reputations of the board should be a concern to all those on this so called board who never meets.

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  7. "Looks like the vultures are circling. The former caretakers are well intentioned. Other cling-on former employees are looking for their 15 mintues of fame."

    Well, its to bad you see it this way.. I could call the "vultures" the leaders of this place that let it get this far and the ones who were pulling in 100K + for many years and doing nothing about the things they knew were going on. You can look at it anyway you want.. but after reading the things I have on here and looking at some of the other news items about this place.. Something is very wrong!

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    1. Let me rephrase that. There may have been organizational mistakes, but it's poor strategy to focus on that if the intent is ape welfare – and I am convinced that is what motivated the Bonobo 12, as you call them. No question. They have the best interests of the apes at heart and should be commended for being whistleblowers.

      Focusing right now on organizational problems and things that probably can't be changed gives Sue exactly what she wants. It strengthens her argument that the Bonobo 12 are just a group of disgruntled employees - and then she wins, nothing changes, and the bonobos continue to live knee-deep in Crazy Town.

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    2. Ah yes, she gets her way, controls the circus, the board gives up, a new board comes along, history repeats itself. Well meaning donors come along who are sucked in to the black hole of Crazy Town. Shall we all just drink the pink kool aid and end the insanity?

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  8. "Just curious, if most of the things that have been said or reported about GAT are true, why do you "question some of the people who signed this letter and thier ethics?"

    Let me just say,.. I have very high respect for most of the people listed on the letter and after working at a place for as long as I did, you get to know people very well and the things that they do, it just a shame that one or 2 of these people have a history doing what is good for them and look the other way if they have nothing to gain. As I said, this stuff has been going on for years and I think its very odd that they are just coming out now.. but don't get me wrong.. I am glad they did.. but it sounds like to me,.. now that they are not being paid they will talk, but as long as they had a job and making money.. they were looking the other way and not making this public. I know thats a mean statement, but thats just the way I feel.. as I said, the people who need to be looked at are the leaders of this place and they need to be asked what they knew.. some of them were being paid a GREAT deal of money to deal with the everyday issues of running a business and as you can see.. they leaders were doing nothing more than pulling in large pay checks.

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    1. If you worked there, why did you not speak up at the time? It seems commenters are losing sight of the most important immediate issue, which should be ape welfare, and what should be done to make sure the apes have an honorable, dignified home. I'm bothered as hell by the fact that the young veterinarian who's now in charge of the lab specialized in cats and dogs. I'm sure she's competent. If any of the apes develop health problems, does the board face additional issues by putting a small animal vet in charge?

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    2. Many caretakers/workers spoke up and complained multiple times throughout their employment. Their concerns were continuously ignored by the Board.

      I believe everyone here is primarily concerned about the welfare of the bonobos.

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    3. A dog and cat vet takes care of domestic pets. Chimp medicine is entirely different and needs an experienced vet who has been working with bonobos for decades. Sue has burned through many veterinarians. She scares them away.

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    4. We did speak up about it, as I have said, the people looking in to this need to talk with the people who were in charge of the place at the time,.. people like Kirk, Jim, Bill,... they know.. I can not count how many time we went and advised them these apes were being put in danager, not only the ape's but people who were on campus as well. If you look at my other posts, I have always said the best thing for these apes is to be put in a place where they can see other apes, people, etc.. I wish only the best for them, and I hope that is done.. back when some of the apes were leaving the Trust,.. I truly think Sue had it in her mind that her apes were also going to be going as well,.. and thats why she made up the story about the baby bonobo's feet being cut, I know for a fact that people who were over seeing the baby bonobo would not hurt him in ANY way.. It has always been the intent of Sue to have EVERYONE out of her business an with everyone off campus now, she has her wish.. the first time she was put on leave, it was because she spent months in the building and would get upset if anyone came in to the building.. As I have said, this is not the first time Sue has been put on leave.

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    5. Yes, you spoke up. The zoo community spoke up, the SSP spoke up, and the board chose to not hear the truth. AZA accreditation was lost when GAT refused to cooperate with global management. The argument was poor Matata, poor Panbanisha..they will be ripped form their families was used by Sue. This sparked the "Matata initiative" to save her from losing her only family. Really? Do you think zoos are so callous that they do not give a damn about how our charges are feeling and what effects a move will have on them mentally?? ZOo Atlanta stepped in and tried to help, tried to do the right thing by moving Matata a founder female out of that hell hole where she could breed with another founder male. They did not have to do this. They don't hold bonobos at their facility. yet they have guardianship of Matata. Townsend out lawyered everyone and Matata stayed in Crazy Town. Ownership (which means guardianship/advocate) needs to be looked at, the legality of it all, paperwork on the offspring of P-Suke who has died, etc. Some of these bonobos may indeed belong to other institutions, but when GAT lawyers up and pulls in mega bucks to fight things..the zoos have to give up. Look at the legal expenses to fight keeping Matata at GAT. Look at ownership of offspring. By that I mean who owns who on paper and what institution should be given some of the bonobos at GAT for breeding and care. Sue has made promises to many that she cannot keep. The myth that the bonobos with Sue live in a nirvana is falling apart isn't it? It is hell. A freaking crazy hell of bubble baths and monk blessings, accidents and car rides, hamburgers on the grill and talking Kanzi. There are some top notch bonobo facilities out there with years of experience and a wealth of knowledge. They care, love, cherish and fight for the welfare and psychological needs of their charges. Global experts are consulted, genetics crunched, veterinarians are from a primate/zoo backround, diets are carefully watched, research is done with respect and never interferes with the social groups. How long will this rag tag board sit there and wring their hands? Oh..I forgot, USDA said it was all A OK. I feel better now.

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    6. There's no money behind this now. The benefactor has moved on. Can the zoo community and SSP get involved again? I no longer want the bonobos to remain in Iowa. It's clear the people with money don't want to support it and the longer Sue holds on, the more dangerous it is to the bonobos. After the Matata Initiative, was the ownership issue ever actually settled?

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    7. On paper, Matata is under the guardianship/ownership of Zoo Atlanta. Matata should have been with a founder male years ago. Such a loss and such a shame she never had that chance. Zoo Atlanta wanted to help, tried to fight for her removal, tied very hard. They gave it their all. GAT sold the poor Matata line to a bunch of uninformed followers. Yes, poor Matata. She's had kids pulled from her, she is over weight, she lives in a nut house.

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  9. What do you think about Sue Savage-Rumbaugh taking a baby bonobo to an event in Des Moines, the Buddhah Relics tour in Des Moines, to have the bonobo blessed, according to Rita Henry's web site (link below)? Never mind that this ignorant woman, who was pictured kissing Teco until the facebook post was taken down, calls him a "pet."

    From Rita Henry's Web site:

    Part of the tour was to offer a special blessing to anyone who wanted one. The blessing was done with intention and a small stupa — a cone-shaped object that holds relics of the Historical Buddha placed on the head. And humans were not the only ones who benefited: a special pet blessing was offered. In fact, on Saturday a scientist from the Bonobo Hope organization brought a bonobo to the event. (Bonobo Hope is a scientific research facility in Des Moines dedicated to, among other things, the preservation of endangered great apes in their natural habitats.)


    http://www.innerprosperity.com/about/letter-from-rita/

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    1. What do I think about it??.. The same way I looked at it when she would put the ape's in the truck and drive them around the outer fence (always inside the fence) but it would of took all but 3 sec for one of them ape's to jump the fence and at times, people were on campus, security was not told, etc.. Sue does what Sue wants to do.. If She could, Trust me, she would drive them around the city of Des Moines.

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    2. baby bonobos belong with bonobo mothers. All of the females at GAT are capable of rearing their own infants. The risk of disease transmission to Teco is great. Bonobos are extremely sensitive to upper respiratory diseases and often times die very quickly from pneumonia. Taking hi out in public is a show of total disregard for the babies health along with the health of the entire troop. Reports of bonobos running in Atlanta neighborhoods when they were located in Georgia are documented. History repeats itself. This is why Georgia State was desperate to rid themselves of the liability. There have been very serious injuries reported in the past-one where Kanzi kicked in the face of a care giver. She needed over 20 surgeries to repair her face. Bites are common and attacks are documented. The current insurance carrier needs to know all of this. Without insurance GAT cannot function. Does the board have insurance?

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  10. Link has a picture.

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  11. Nobody has pointed it out yet, but the careful research Sue did on bonobo's linguistic capabilities has shed more light on early hominids' abilities than a 100 Aferensis fossils could have, and certainly silenced the Chomskys of the world on the origins of linguistic ability.

    We would know a lot less about bonobos intellect if Sue had not been doing what she's been doing. Penny Patterson has heard a lot of these criticism too - typically from people less accomplished than she.

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