Monday, October 8, 2012

More chimpanzees to enter 40-year-old language research program

After my last blog post, Key Out Now: ending the failed ape research projects, I heard from several supporters of the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute. I had discussed the Great Ape Trust, the Gorilla Foundation, and the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute in that post, and CHCI supporters definitely let me know that they do not want CHCI mentioned in the same breath as the Great Ape Trust.

“Please do not include CHCI with your criticisms of Great Ape Trust,” said one caregiver who works at CHCI. “I don't think Fouts is mismanaging the chimpanzees in the way that it's pretty clear is going on at the other two places,” an anthropologist observed. (Note: Fouts retired last year from a CWU administrative post, although he is listed as one of the directors of Friends of Washoe.) “To lump CHCI and the Great Ape Trust together was unfair and misleading,” a worker at a sanctuary commented on Facebook.

I agree that Great Ape Trust is in a league of its own, followed closely by Gorilla Foundation. However, I stand by everything I wrote in Key Out Now. I presented the views of ape research program veteran and primate welfare activist Bob Ingersoll, who suggested that the apes at Great Ape Trust and CHCI need to be moved to a proper sanctuary, where they can live with other apes in large groups, and without being subjected to paid public attendance.

I also understand there are two sides to any story, especially when it comes to ape care and management (where there are usually six or seven sides), so I offered to provide an open platform for one of CHCI’s most ardent supporters. She declined my invitation, but as CHCI supporters argued their case, I learned something new. I learned that CHCI is bringing more chimpanzees into its research program.

Now that we know that CHCI plans to bring more chimpanzees into captive research, at a time when many are questioning the value of the language programs, perhaps we should open up the discussion a bit.

First, let me give a little background on the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute.

CHCI is part of Central Washington University, which holds the research and exhibition certificates under the USDA APHIS Animal Welfare regulations. CWU built the facility as part of a deal that Roger Fouts made when he was looking to get out of Oklahoma University in the late 1970s. Fouts and his wife could conduct their research with chimpanzee Washoe and others at CWU. Friends of Washoe, the charitable organization, is separate from CHCI. According to a history link article, Washoe and family move into CHCI:

“In 1981 Roger and Deborah Fouts founded Friends of Washoe to fund their research into how chimpanzees acquire language and, subsequently, to raise money for a better home for the chimpanzees in Washoe's family... In 1985 the Foutses began designing this new facility… By the late 1980s, the designs were complete and the proposed 1990 Washington state construction budget of both houses of congress contained requests for $1.5 million to fund a new home for the chimpanzees at Central… The funding was approved. The state of Washington ultimately funded approximately 90 percent of the $2.3 million needed to build the new facility, some through the University budget. Friends of Washoe raised the balance through individual donations… Construction of the new facility began in the spring of 1990.”

So, how is CHCI doing financially? It’s hard to tell. Since it isn’t listed with the IRS as a charitable organization, I can’t get their financial records. A recent newspaper article indicated they get half their operating budget from the university, and half from Friends of Washoe. FOW is a public charity (EIN 91-1164979), and it posted 2008, 2009, and 2010 IRS Forms 990 at Guidestar. According to the 990 for the year 2010, Friends of Washoe got $113,000 in donations. They also earned $62,412 in investment income that year, from their nearly $1.5 million in investments (publicly traded securities). They transferred $81,202, less than half their revenue that year, to the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute to “fund chimp communication research.”

The Fouts family has a major say in Friends of Washoe. In 2009, FOW listed ten directors, and five of them were Fouts: Roger, Rachel, Josh, Hillary, and Deborah. In 2010, FOW listed eight directors, four of them Fouts. (Josh dropped off.)

Fouts has a dedicated following. Most of his fans like to cite his book, Next of Kin, when they refer to his ape language research. Much more to the point, I think, is his statement in Great Apes and Humans: The Ethics of Coexistence, a collection of essays by Benjamin Beck, et al., published in 2001. Talking about Washoe, the chimpanzee who was the primary focus of his research, Fouts writes:

“It was a project, in its ignorance, that condemned a young girl to a life where she could never fully reach the potential for which she was born, and would always be out of place, and would always be considered inferior... It was a project that condemned her to life in prison, even though she never committed a crime. It is for these reasons that I have publicly stated that I would never again support or be a part of a project that necessitates the taking of an infant chimpanzee from her or his mother or his or her species... Projects that do this today cannot hide behind the ignorance that existed before the 1970s... Because the five chimpanzees for whom I am responsible are marooned in this prison for life, I insist that their interests and well-being be our first priority.”

One of the five chimpanzees, Moja, died a decade ago. Washoe died in 2007. Three chimpanzees remain at CHCI: 37-year-old Tatu, 36-year-old Dar, and 34-year-old Loulis. Is it in their best interest to remain at CHCI? Are they living the life they deserve?

As I said, I offered to give a platform to one of the vocal CHCI supporters, to rebut my observation that Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute "has turned into a sideshow for paying customers." Since I am a critic of the ape language research projects, including CHCI, I did not want to paraphrase some of the observations of CHCI supporters. But the supporter did not want me to post her Facebook comments as a statement, so I will instead address some of the points she raised.

Ingersoll, in Key Out Now, objected to CHCI's "Chimposiums" as little more than entertainment, adding "it's charging to hang out with chimps," which he thinks is wrong. Supporter's point: Chimposiums are primarily an educational lecture, with a "short guided observation." The chimpanzees "actually find it very enriching and love to see people's shoes and ask them to wear masks." 

CHCI recently told a reporter that 5,000 paying customers attend Chimposiums every year. CHCI's marketing video seems to promote lots of chimp viewing, despite their claims now that they aren't offering entertainment. And, by the way, it's a "great stop on the way to other NW attractions," as you will see in CHCI's YouTube promotion...

Supporter's point: The "donations" paid to attend a Chimposium go to chimp care and salaries.

The Chimposium admission fees go to Friends of Washoe, which gives money to CHCI for chimp care. In 2010, FOW transferred less than half of its 2010 revenues to CHCI. It had reported income of about $175,000 and it gave $81,000 to CHCI.

Supporter's point: Most of CHCI's American Sign Language research is from archival data. "We very rarely have live observation research and, when we do, it is always on their terms." They also look at caregiving techniques and conduct a number of other research projects that "barely ever involve live data collection."

I think this is terrific. It proves the point that, at least from a scientific perspective, the chimpanzees probably don't need to live in a research facility.

Supporter's point: CHCI's first goal is to give their chimpanzees quality care for the rest of their lives. That is what they deserve.

I applaud this. I just happen to think they would have a better life in a sanctuary. If CHCI wants to become a sanctuary, they should seek accreditation as a sanctuary.

In response to Bob Ingersoll’s concern that the three remaining chimps are old and will die, one by one, leaving a chimp alone… Supporter's point: CHCI is planning to bring in more chimps, they "definitely do not want one to ever be alone." They are trying to raise money to renovate the facility to accommodate more chimps and are in the first stages of a facility remodel.

This was news to me. It is also puzzling. If the chimps need more chimpanzee companionship, and they aren't needed for observational research, why doesn't CHCI let them retire in a sanctuary? Why would a university want to bring in more chimpanzees, if there isn't much live observational research being conducted? Is CHCI planning to rev up the old ape language research program again? If so, how long are we going to use captive chimpanzees to rehash the old language studies? Is the program changing its  mission? Or does CHCI want to be a sanctuary? This news raises more questions than it answers, and I hope they will share their decision paper for their plans to enlarge the chimpanzee population at Central Washington University.

Finally, if indeed CHCI is trying to raise money to enlarge facilities to bring in additional chimpanzees, they might want to apply for a grant from their own funding organization, Friends of Washoe, which is sitting on a pile of money. I’ll bet that $1.5 million could buy a lot of sunshine, fresh air, and space for the chimpanzee friends of Washoe, whether it is at CHCI or in an accredited sanctuary.


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  2. As a former intern at CHCI I can tell you firsthand that these chimpanzees are well cared for and a great amount of effort is put into enrichment and meal preparation for them. They have indoor and outdoor facilities and can choose to remain hidden during these chimposiums if they so desire. It is my personal opinion that they seem to enjoy having visitors.

    1. Thanks stuckerm. I'm sure the interns, volunteers, and paid caregivers all do their very best for the chimps.

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    1. Deborah, I understand you are upset, but I have a right to ask questions about great ape programs without being accused of slander. I gave you an opportunity to post whatever you wanted to say on the blogpost, and you decided against it, so I will publish your comment now. I will request, however, that any future comment be directed at the substance of the issue and that you refrain from any more ad hominem attacks.

  4. Hi, I'm a volunteer docent at CHCI, and just wanted to clarify what happens at a Chimposium. A docent gives a thirty minute educational talk to the guests, and then there is a twenty minute observation of the chimpanzees. The chimpanzees are never asked to "perform" or anything that would resemble a side show. Often they choose to come up and observe the human guests, as the humans are observing them. If they don't want to, there are places they can go to get away from people during the twenty minute visit. Chimposium guests are taught "chimpanzee etiquette" such as not showing our top teeth (resembles a threat grimace) and stooping our posture (to avoid the appearance of swaggering). Many people come into the visit with prior attitudes of "let's look at the cute monkeys" (sic) and leave with increased knowledge, respect, and interest in chimpanzees.

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  6. As a 10 year volunteer docent at CHCI I have educated many people about the chimpanzee situation in the world today and the deplorable condition of so many chimpanzees in the US in biomed and entertainment. When visitors observe and interact, if the chimps are interested, many of them find their views completely altered and a find an understanding and compassion and desire to do something to help. This educational program has nothing to do with a circus side show.

    When people ask about the family becoming smaller due to losing Washoe and Moja we answer that there are plans to remodel the building so new chimpanzees needing retirement can safely be introduced to the existing family. It seems to me that if there is the human commitment to keep CHCI functioning as a home (and sanctuary) for chimps then why should Tatu, Loulis and Dar who are older and have called CHCI home for 20 years leave be subjected to the stress of integrating into another group at another place. These chimps are also able to make their needs and wants known thru sign language, they have interactions with their caregivers that seem to enrich their lives. This would most likely be absent in another setting. What a loss that would be for them. It makes so much more sense to integrate chimps who need sanctuary into this group in this excellent facility than to move anyone out of it.

    I question your comments, have you ever visited CHCI or attended a Chimposium? I don't think judgement is valid without personal experiece.

    CHCI graduates have gone on to work and manage sanctuaries. People who have participated in other CHCI programs have founded Fauna Sanctuary and Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest. CHCI's influence has been far reaching and very important for US Chimps and conservation efforts in Africa as well.

    1. Thank you for contributing to a reasonable discussion.

      Let me make one point... Just as you have a right to make judgments about institutions that you have never visited (i.e., your correct criticism about biomed research), people who haven't attended a Chimposium have a right to question whether these sessions are in the best interests of the chimps. I don't believe that we solve disagreements by invalidating opinions.

    2. My judgments about biomed and entertainment come from long time evidence from many reputable sources. Where does the comment about "cirucs side show"come from? One person? Have they ever been to CHCI? Somewhere along the line a judgment call like that needs to come from someone with first hand evidence. I read the Key Out post. I have some problems with it. In a perfect world no chimps would have ever left Africa, they would live in large groups on their own terms with no theats of slaughter for bushmeat. That is not the case. The three chimps in question have lived decades caught between two different worlds. Of course this never should have happened (hindsight can be 20-20), but forcing them to integrate into a group of strangers, who, in some ways, don't understand them could create immesureable unnecessary stress on them. Taking away the presence of human friends who they've come to trust and enjoy seems again unnecessarily cruel. No captivite situation can substitute for the life they shoud have had. But removing them from the life they've come to trust and in which they flourish seems unnecessary. There are so many other chimps who do need our support and advocacy, who are in situations that might be dangerous and are certainly damaging. CHCI wants to help one or two of those in need. This should be applauded instead of derided.

    3. I am not deriding the decision to bring more chimps into the program, I have asked valid questions. As I said in the post, I hope CHCI will share their decision paper. Their strategic plans for the future, as well as their thoughts about where their new chimps will come from, would help inform the discussion.

    4. Before we leave the discussion about CHCI, I would like to add my viewpoint. I studied art and photography, I had no education about primates previously. I began a journey of self-education 15 years ago. At the time, I found Dr. Noon on the internet and she heped me learn some things. Then, I travelled to CHCI after reading, 'Next of Kin'.It was made abundantly clear that we would have no interactions with the chimps while there.No photogrphs of the chimps were allowed either. The only time we saw chimps was when we were given a brief orientation. Loulis was on the other side of the glass watching us and pointing to our shoes. (We were there for HIS entertainment).Tatu was on her back playing with a face mask. Later, we saw the outdoor enclosure.Where the chimps came and went at will. What a wonderful setting it was! Lots and lots of enrichment throughout.
      Later, I saw the outdoor enclosure they could go in and out of at will. I have seen several sanctuaries since, and this facility rates right there with them at the top.
      I was impressed with the professionalism displayed by all the Caregivers, not to mention the dedication and obvious love for the chimps they displayed.
      Roger's book, my visit to CHCI, were all important steps in my education.I am indebted to them.

  7. Thanks Dawn for posting my comment. I deleted the first one as I accidentally posted duplicate comments. All of the workers at CHCI are very dedicated, passionate, and respectful towards the chimpanzees. CHCI strives to provide a sanctuary type setting while still conducting non-invasive research in order to learn more about chimpanzees. There have been studies regarding how to improve their lives in captivity, so please feel free to check out some publications coming from CHCI.

  8. It is clear to me, and I don't think ever disputed, that the people who care for the CHCI chimps care deeply about them. I care deeply about them myself. Tatu is the daughter of Thelma, a chimp I knew in Oklahoma at the IPS and a chimp I advocated for, for years before she finally and thankfully made it to Save the Chimps, after stops at LEMSIP and then the Coulston Foundation. Dar is the son of Kitty, a chimp I helped get out of The Coulston Foundation and to the Black Beauty Ranch through my "Secret Network" talked about by Jim Mahoney in Project NIm. Over 100 chimps were ultimately part of that secret network including some now residing at the Fauna Foundation. Finally Loulis, who arrived in Oklahoma as an infant before moving on to CHCI after stops along the way in California. I took care of Loulis when he was an infant in Oklahoma. So I also have an interest in what is best for all these chimps… a somewhat personal interest like many of you.

    The CHCI, CSNW and Fauna Foundation chimps are, as it has been pointed out, somewhat linked as written in a previous comment :

    "CHCI graduates have gone on to work and manage sanctuaries. People who have participated in other CHCI programs have founded Fauna Sanctuary and Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest. CHCI's nfluence has been far reaching and very important for US Chimps and conservation efforts in Africa as well."

    To me, it seems clear that the humans who care for these chimps lives are (to use legal jargon) inextricably intertwined. That seems to be a problem, a conflict of interest, in the long run, and the primary reason why CHCI and, I expect, CSNW and the Fauna Foundation would be and are it seems very resistant to talk about removing or moving the chimps from any of their respective facilities. I think that is a problem. I don't think anything or any solution should be ruled out simply because the chimps may have to be moved.

    The current groups would, as has been pointed out, have to be –let’s say – replenished every now and again to continue to keep the problem of one lone ape from happening, and that is going to happen at all three of these facilities. That would perpetuate itself over time if those groups are left in the situation, as they are now. That just seems to be the logical outcome of this strategy. Not a good one in my opinion, for reasons that include (but not only) weather, best use of resources, lone chimps at smaller facilities, which chimps go where, and on and on.

    I would like to propose a strategy, a plan, that we all can get behind and make happen and one that could solve the captive chimp problem we now face currently here in the USA. What if CHCI and CSNW and FAUNA all together proposed a unified effort to move all their chimps to Florida near the two World Class Chimp Facilities that are already up and running in central Florida? That proposal would not only include the chimps who currently reside at the three facilities mentioned. Let’s include the over 900 chimps that right now need a home in the master plan.

    What if NEAVS and PCRM and HSUS and all the other NGOs and groups and individuals got behind an effort like this? A unified effort to do the right thing and do it ASAP. What if we asked several members of Congress and other public officials, like Representative Kucinich for example, to help make this happen?

    We have to start somewhere and what I am proposing is that we all get together and at least talk about what would be in the best interests of ALL the chimps who need a home. All 937, as NEAVS has recently stated. I would love to be part of that plan. Wouldn’t you?

    Bob Ingersoll
    Project Nim

  9. I have been to the CHCI symposiums twice. The second time I went, (around 2002) I walked away from the crowd of visitors and passed by Washoe, who was by herself and startled her and really upset her and I immediately felt guilty for being there. I do believe they enjoy some interaction with the public, but seeing Washoe's reaction to me and the stress I caused her made me think there has to be a better way to get the message to protect chimps than the tours. Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) conducts similar tours for their rescued animals, and having been to theirs, I see no problem with their tours but there's one big difference at PAWS; they do not take care of chimps or other apes at their sanctuaries.I trust Roger and Debbie Fouts' commitment to do what's best for the chimps, and I had always believed the language studies would end once the last of the original group of chimps passed on.There's got to be a way to for CHCI to become a sanctuary and educate the public without stressing the chimps like I unintentionally did.

    1. Since I wrote the original blog, the two remaining chimps at CHCI were transferred to the Fauna Foundation, an outstanding sanctuary in Canada. For a good explanation, see