Wednesday, December 19, 2012

U.S. chimpanzee policy moves forward in 2012 (even though some great apes are left behind)

Progress doesn't come easy, but it is coming. The news from NIH on Tuesday, that over a hundred retired federal chimpanzees may be heading to a sanctuary instead of to another lab, marks a major milestone in America’s treatment of our great apes. That the Humane Society of the United States contributed half a million dollars to help build the needed facilities is a commitment that has earned my support forever. (Much more money is needed, and I hope you'll make a donation.)

Please make a donation to help build
sanctuary space for retired fed chimps.
This good news for the federal chimps is hopefully a harbinger of smart policy recommendations due from the committee looking at the eventual fate of a thousand retired federal chimps. The final report is supposed to be issued in early 2013, and I'm actually not dreading it.

But other apes don’t have a good future awaiting them. The bonobos at the Great Ape Trust (I've lost track, what is that organization calling itself these days???) remain subject to the nutsy anti-science bi-culturation pursued by former researcher Sue Savage-Rumbaugh. The older and fatter bonobos are probably suffering from heart disease, and poor baby Teco may be destined to repeat the tragedy of Nim -- who also slept with his female human nurturer, was treated like a baby human, and grew up confused and conflicted. (By the way, DO NOT MISS the superb movie Project Nim, on HBO tomorrow night!) We can only hope that bonobo experts will be available to help in the next couple of months when the Iowa Primate Research Center goes broke.

We pretty much have to give up on any hopes that the gorilla Koko will ever have an opportunity to live as a gorilla. Her life has been so warped she likely doesn’t have a clue what a gorilla is. But my heart really goes out to the other gorilla, so ignored by Koko's fawning media. After Penny Patterson’s newsletter asserted that she focuses on enrichment — “making a gorilla’s life in a captive setting as joyful, stimulating and healthful as possible” – former caregivers sent me some angry missives, explaining that it is much more critical “to get proper medical and dental care for Ndume, who has not been examined in more than 20 years since arriving at the Foundation.” Ndume is the male gorilla, owned by the Cincinnati Zoo, who lives in solitary confinement on the Gorilla Foundation premises... while Penny pretends that Koko wants to have Ndume’s baby.

I must stipulate that I don’t know if Ndume is hurting, but several former caregivers tell me that he shows pain when he chews. I passed the complaints to the USDA inspectors in August. After I filed a Freedom of Information Act request in September, asking what inspectors found, an APHIS representative told me that “agency employees conducted a thorough search of their files and have advised that Animal Care’s employees are still looking into your concerns… therefore no findings are available at this time. Moreover, we are unable to determine when the proceedings will be completed.” I filed another FOIA request for information on November 30, and I have received no information. Given the four months of delay, I truly hope that the caregivers are wrong about Ndume suffering from painful dental problems.

Robert Ingersoll, the primate researcher and animal rights activist who rescued Nim and others, was prescient in discussing the unsustainability of the small population of chimpanzees at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute. One of the chimps, lovely Dar, suddenly died recently, and we wait to hear about CHCI’s plans to provide chimp companionship for their remaining apes. There have been reports about renovating the facilities and bringing in more chimps, but questions remain about the status of research and university support for a pseudo-sanctuary. Wouldn’t it be great if ignoramus Mike Casey would let his show biz chimps go to live at CHCI? It’s not a perfect arrangement, but it would clearly be a step up for all the chimpanzees, especially with the Clark County decision to deny a request to let Casey's chimps live in a residential area.

As we get closer to the end of yet another Congress that has not passed the Great Ape Protection Act, (even though the Senate committee made some progress), we realize that apes remain at the mercy of their owners, no matter how crazy or money grubbing. Fortunately, the U.S. has a great core of sanctuaries (that need more $$ support) and advocates (ditto) fighting for the health and well-being for as many animals as possible. I believe we also have an Administration that has made strides in developing better policies. All in all, 2012 has been a good year for many apes.


  1. thank you for staying on all this, Dawn.
    Another disgruntled former "caregiver."

  2. Regarding Koko:
    This from the latest Gorilla Foundation Newsletter:
    "Ensure ongoing first-class care for Koko and Ndume, including nourishing meals, state of the art health care, and plentiful enrichment and companionship!"

    First class care? What care for Ndume? He's not had medical or dental care in over 20 years.

    Nourishing meals? Human-like sit-down 'meals' including meat, steamed foods, and sweet sugary drinks are not at all nourishing, and a poor substitute for a natural 'gorilla' diet.

    Companionship? How are you accomplishing that? Koko and Ndume have been denied companionship (including briefly occupying the same enclosure) for years now.

  3. While I find some of Sue Savage-Rumbaugh's ideas a tad flaky, I think Teco is better off (so far) than Nim Chimpsky because he is part of a bonobo group, whereas Nim didn't meet another chimpanzee until he was about five years old.

    Having seen Project Nim, I've concluded that social animals need contact with their own species to be emotionally healthy and develop social skills. For example, a friend's rambunctious puppy was calmer after spending a few days with an adult dog. On the other hand, Knut, who spent his childhood with his human keeper grew up to have serious mental problems.

  4. I say get a life and leave everyone alone, you wonder why your husband left you. Who would be with you

    1. Just for the record, since you brought it up... I've been married twice. Once, back in the 1970s, when we were both in the Army. After we left the service and started college (thank you GI Bill!), it quickly became obvious that we had different life goals, the most stark difference being he wanted children and I didn't. So we divorced, by mutual agreement, after 17 months. My second marriage, to a Hawaiian guitar player, was almost 20 years later, after a wonderful, fairy tale beginning in Hawaii. We were married for 17 years, and held off on a very amicable divorce until he qualified for Medicare. (Musicians can't afford health insurance, so I carried him on my policy.) We remain good friends.