Sunday, October 21, 2012

The crisis deepens at Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope

It’s time for an update on the situation at Great Ape Trust of Iowa / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary, and unfortunately the news is bad.

It appears that Sue Savage-Rumbaugh didn’t like the direction her board of directors was heading, especially as a couple of the more responsible ones left recently, so she has reportedly asked new people to join the board. Well, they are somewhat new. One is her sister, even though she is an employee of the organization. (I guess we can’t grumble here, since putting family members on the ape language boards is a popular move, ala Chimpanzee and Human Language Institute.)

We continue to watch one of the great farces, as Nancy Howell extended the completion date of the "investigation" into charges of Savage-Rumbaugh’s misfeasance, ostensibly to take more input. Of course, the limitations to the investigation seem designed to suit the Savage-Rumbaugh’s whimsy, so no one is holding their breath. 
Mobile Zoo, home of poor chimpanzee
Joel, got an inquiry about taking the
Great Ape Trust bonobos.
It appears that the board, at one point last month, was going to decide to move the bonobos. After the Bonobo 12 went public with their complaints, board president Ken Schweller and others got busy. Where the hell could they put those bonobos, out of Sue Savage-Rumbaugh’s reach? Calls went out all over the country, asking a slew of people if they could take the bonobos. The outreach extended to serious organizations (like one of the country's best sanctuaries), to the adventurous (like Lion Country Safari) to the absolutely ridiculous (like Mobile Zoo, Inc. -- an unaccredited outfit that got this official warning from federal inspectors in June, and that features chimpanzee Joel wearing a wig on its website), and reportedly several others.

(By the way, where is the report of Great Ape Trust’s most recent inspection? Federal inspectors from USDA went out there on September 12, and nothing is on the APHIS website yet. The agency regularly posts inspection reports as public information after 21 days, as long as the facility does not submit an appeal. In that case, they don’t post until the appeal has been settled. Schweller had told the Des Moines Register “USDA came out yesterday and everything looked good.” It’s been 39 days since the inspection. If it was so “good,” why isn’t it available?)

On October 4, Schweller and three other board members met secretly with two of the most highly respected ape specialists in the country, and told them that the board was ready to act responsibly, to save the bonobos from the sad situation they are locked into. I’ve heard that, par for the course for this sorry little outfit, the board members never followed up with the professionals who used personal resources and time to prepare and give the briefing. (Not even a thank you?) It is evident from the silence emanating out of Des Moines (and from the fact that two of the board members resigned almost immediately after coming out of that briefing), that the other two seemed to misrepresent their intentions.

Did Savage-Rumbaugh find out about all this activity? Is that why Schweller and the others have slunk back into their usual submissiveness? It looks for all the world like these board members are just too damned scared.

And let's not even get into Ted Townsend sitting by, leaving his "beloved" bonobos under what he had to know was mismanagement and a toothless board of directors. You gotta love millionaires with throw-away hobbies... 

The last I heard, Schweller was telling folks they would run out of money at the beginning of the year. After the way they have treated the professionals who have advised board members and have offered to help, I wonder who is going to be there to rescue the bonobos when the place goes under? 

No doubt, the real professionals will have to step in at some point… if the bonobos can hold on long enough.