Sunday, November 25, 2012

Spanish urban planner to lead development of bonobo artist colony at Iowa’s Great Ape Trust

The pronouncements of the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary (aka Great Ape Trust, aka Bonobo Hope, dba, tweeting as Art4BonoboHope) are fascinating.

Savage-Rumbaugh's artist brother, Russ RuBert, took this
photo of the scientist and the baby bonobo she is trying to
rear "bi-culturally." 
Earlier this week, in the 7th paragraph of their press release announcing the unsurprising results of their self-serving “investigation” of Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, the organization announced they now have a new board president, replacing the former short-timer board president Ken Schweller.

“Notable primatologist, Dr. Carmen Maté, was voted in as Board Chairperson. Among other rolls [sic], Dr. Maté has served as the research director at the Barcelona Zoo for eight years and was also executive director of the Barcelona Zoo from 2004-2008.” This smooth presentation of Mate’s background makes it sound like she worked at the zoo for 12 years, doesn’t it? Doing all sorts of cool primatology things, right?

Actually, Mate’s LinkedIn page does not mention that she is a primatologist, but I did find her name mentioned in a “Laboratory Primate Newsletter” in 1994. Since 2009, she has worked as a “Cap de projectes” (project management head) at the Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona. Prior to that, she lists three positions, held simultaneously, from 2004 to 2008. She lists her positions as executive director at Barcelona Zoo, and research director at the same time, but starting a bit earlier (from 2000 to 2008). Also at the same time, she was an assistant professor at Pompeu Fabra University (from 1999 to 2009). Her write-up at the Urban Ecology Agency says she is on the “Scientific Committee for the Jane Goodall Institute” – but I could not find her name mentioned anywhere on the JGI website. Nor could I find any reference to a scientific committee. So perhaps she no longer serves in that capacity.

This is just like the ever-changing Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope Iowa Primate Research Sanctuary. They always leave us guessing about the facts behind the ambiguity… like unstated facts revealed in Perry Beeman’s latest article, at the Des Moines Register:

“The sanctuary has applied for an $850,000 grant from the [Prairie Meadows] racetrack and casino. The documents detail Savage-Rumbaugh’s plans to establish a sustainable village centered on an art program involving humans and bonobos at the site, and an artists colony. The application notes the program would be run by a ‘nationally known artist,’ Russ Rubert of Springfield, Mo. The application doesn’t disclose that Rubert is Savage-Rumbaugh’s brother.”

As always, the news behind the pronouncements at Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope Iowa Primate Research Sanctuary is intriguing, even if it doesn’t inspire any confidence in their primate care capabilities. And we can always look forward to the next name change. Since a visitor center (built with a hoped-for massive cash influx donated in memory of Panbanisha’s tragic death) and an artist colony don’t comport to sanctuary standards, and there is no research being conducted, perhaps their next fundraising scheme will be to hold a contest to find an appropriate name for the program.

Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope Iowa Primate Research Sanctuary Exhibition Hall and …??

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Former Great Ape Trust employees retain lawyer, call for disclosures

Yesterday a group of 11 former employees representing approximately 50 years of collective research and work with primates, issued a press release through their recently retained lawyer.

Due to continued threatened legal action against the group of former employees who came forward with their concerns, the former employees have retained legal counsel, Angela Campbell at Dickey & Campbell Law Firm.

Management at the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary,
which permits children to have access to ape
facilities, is under fire.
In the release from Campbell’s firm, the former employees (informally known as the Bonobo 12, but evidently minus one) called on the Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary to issue a written report of its specific findings in the investigation of the bonobos’ welfare at their facility. The investigation was spurred by concerns voiced by the Bonobo 12, and this latest request follows the death of the bonobo Panbanisha, as well as the administrative leave – and subsequent reinstatement – of Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh.

Without access to those materials, the former employees say they are “unable to comment on any comment made by IPLS about the prior investigation or the thoroughness of the private, internal investigation.”

The IPLS has reportedly issued a press release dismissing the concerns of the former employees, although (at the time this is written) it hasn’t been posted to its website. It supposedly references a prior internal investigation from December of 2011, as well as materials and interviews possessed by the internal investigatory committee. The former employees say they were not provided copies of the “prior investigatory report, nor were they privy to the materials used by the internal investigators.” 

“Bonobos are a unique and prized endangered species, and the individual bonobos at the Sanctuary are at the forefront of language research in non-human apes. The Great Ape Trust should come forward with all information it has regarding the death of Panbanisha, and the current health of the remaining bonobos,” said Dr. Janni Pedersen, an assistant professor of anthropology who did her dissertation research while at the Great Ape Trust.

“External, independent, and transparent investigations bring with them a level of credibility and reliability that secret, internal investigations do not. We encourage transparency in this process for the protection of the bonobos,” said Daniel Musgrave, a former caretaker, research assistant and education coordinator at IPLS who obtained his master’s degree in biological anthropology while doing independent research at the facility.

According to the press release, “the former employees have no other comments at this time, pending the release of Panbanisha’s necropsy results and a formal decision whether to release the internal investigatory materials utilized by the Board in reaching its most recent decision.” 

I wonder if we should all hold our collective breaths, waiting for disclosure by the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary to publicly exhibit bonobo Kanzi and others

I still haven't seen a press release coming from the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary (formerly Bonobo Hope, formerly Great Ape Trust), but word is zooming around cyberspace tonight. Following a rash of emails that represent a "board meeting" earlier this week, the IPLS is changing focus (once again) and will now open up the facility as a public exhibition. On Tuesday, USDA’s Heather Cole inspected the facilities and unofficially informed them that their application for an exhibitor’s license was approved.

This new move into public exhibition does not come as a surprise, since they started leveraging bonobo Panbanisha's tragic death as a fundraiser for a new visitor's center, almost immediately after her death. This is a screen grab from their website. (BTW, the strange symbols are on the site, it isn't a problem with your computer.)

Also to no one’s surprise, Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary has rejected all claims of the Bonobo 12, as reports circulate that certain board members are consumed with imaginary conspiracies against the organization. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh maintains control of the bonobos, although she won't be the director. They have appointed interim director Julie Gilmore as the permanent director.

So, what’s next? I'm going to take bets. I'm willing to wager that the board will now start making statements intended to scare the Bonobo 12 into backing off their public statements. I imagine that a legal threat or two, and maybe a couple of nasty insinuations, will be mighty tempting to Savage-Rumbaugh and her board members.

Panbanisha's death is being used as a fundraiser for a visitor's center at the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary.
For background, see Great Ape Trust.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"Project Nim" on HBO December 20

"Project Nim," the powerful documentary about an important chapter in the ape language saga, will be on HBO TV on December 20. Mark your calendars now.

You do not want to miss this terrific movie, believe me. Laugh, cry, learn about this wonderful chimpanzee and the people who loved/exploited/saved him.

Learn more at HBO: Project Nim

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Panbanisha is dead

Bonobo Panbanisha is dead.

Now will the board of directors at the Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope House of Disaster act?

Panbanisha is one of the bonobos at the facility where executive director Sue Savage-Rumbaugh has been temporarily suspended, pending a friendly board “investigation” of charges leveled against her by former caregivers and others (known as the Bonobo 12).

According to a report from KCCI, Des Moines, “Great Ape Trust board Chairman Dr. Ken Schweller said Panbanisha likely died from complications from a cold. The center is waiting for a full report from a veterinarian.”

Shit! I feel like puking.

The current and former members of the Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary board of directors ignored our demand to give these bonobos a chance. It is evident, now, that members of the Bonobo Species Survival Plan need to make a vigorous push to care for the apes, and the board needs to listen. With the other bonobos sick with colds as well, they need to act. Obviously, the small animal vet they have on hand was not able to save Panbanisha, but maybe with the help of actual ape experts, they can save the rest of the bonobos.

Savage-Rumbaugh sent a self-serving email to board members, informing them of the death. I can't stomach printing all of it here (see the full text on the West Des Moines Patch website), but I find Savage-Rumbaugh's statement that "now [Panbanisha] is free, free at last" to be particularly galling, as if there was no choice in the conditions that killed this wonderful ape.

Panbanisha was 27 years old. Healthy female bonobos in captivity are expected to live into their 50s.

UPDATE, Nov 13 2012: Per their usual flailing approach to fundraising, it isn't surprising that the organization is now leveraging this tragic death into a pitch for donations -- to build a visitor's center! One would think that hiring professional caregivers would be a higher priority.


For background on the fears for the health and safety of the bonobos, see We believe… there is an immediate danger to the apes’ health and lives, a statement from the Bonobo 12.

One of the former caregivers, Daniel Musgrave, wrote a desperately poignant essay, QUIET HIDE

More on Great Ape Trust...