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 chimptrainersdaughter@gmail.com

For more information, see our Bonobo Hope post.


  1. Elikiya (Matata x P-Suke)

    Possible sires: Nyota (Panbanisha X P-Suke)

    Maisha (Matata x P-Suke) full sib

    Kanzi: supposedly vas-clipped

    Elikiya has either bred with her full sibling, half sibling, or Kanzi who was supposedly vas clipped several years ago. Kanzi should not breed as he is over represented genetically in the global population. The other 2 males are a dangerous inbreeding. Elikiya should care for her own baby unless she too was pulled from her mother for bi cultural rearing.

    1. Teco is the product of Elikiya X Nyota, Elikiya X MAisha, or Elikiya X Kanzi. Genetics can be done with a hair follicle.
      P-Suke died of "heart failure" which in the bonobo usually is a result of chronic hypertension, high salt diet, and no medical treatment or detection of early heart disease. A dead bonobo from cardiac disease is the result of years of abuse to his/her heart. Granted, they will all die, but with intervention and early detection these males can live a much longer life with high quality. The Great Ape Heart Project explains this further. This is one of the many collaborative projects that zoos, labs, and sanctuary experts are participating in. If you take a look at Kanzi and his severe obesity, along with many other obese bonobos at GAT, animal abuse is happening every second of their life. It is a glaring neon sign that says "heart attack waiting to happen". GAT has intentionally sequestered themselves away from the rest of the ape world. The physical state of the bonobos is alarming and shows lack of concern, abuse, and rejection of current medical advances in cardiac health. Of course now GAT and board does not want to have all these health problems exposed. Maybe the cosmologist will perform the cardiac exams and all will be well.

  2. So let me get this straight..is this "investigation" being run by Sue? Does anybody else see a problem here? Has the board discussed options and are those options for public viewing?

    1. I don't think Sue's running it, per se, but Nancy Howell is directing it within the unacceptable parameters that Sue has set. It has been set up to specifically exclude observations by most of the Bonobo 12, and even the loooonnnnggg list of problems detailed in the rejection of her research protocol. And no, there is nothing for public viewing. We're supposed to trust them.

  3. What qualifications does Nancy Howell have to run an investigation about the welfare of an endangered species? Does any board member have hands on experience managing a captive population of bonobos? I think not. A team of outside experts needs to be assembled quickly. Bonobo and chimp experts who have experience with managing large troops of apes. Veterinarians with bonobo expertise, caregivers with years of experience, etc. A cosmologist is running this freak show "investigation"??? Are you serious??

  4. The comments posted on this blog and other internet articles were from the past employees at LRC and GATI, who worked close to Sue.
    I understand if a couple of past employees raising their voice to Sue, their intention might be just to get back to Sue. However, as I see it, so many people are commenting about her wrong doing (to bonobos and people), and this cannot be taken just as a matter of jealousy or retaliation. You have to experience first hand to understand the magnitude of this issue. People outside of the LRC/GATI also trying to exploit Sue and Kanzi for their benefit, therefore trying to cover up her past issues. This is getting way out of control. P-suke and Nathan died for nothing..