Friday, December 27, 2013

My choices for Person of the Year – and Ass of the Year

At the beginning of 2013, NIH Director Francis Collins was the ugly face of government-funded research using chimpanzees. Leonardo DiCaprio was the handsome face of star power used to advance public opinion for animal welfare. By the end of year, Collins and DiCaprio were unmasked, revealed by the individual decisions they made. It turns out that Dr. Collins is the protector, Leo the exploiter.

For decades, chimpanzee advocates ran into a brick wall at the National Institutes of Health, as they tried to end the useless and destructive research on chimps. No one listened, until Collins. In a stunning series of decisions that has ended research for most of the federally-supported chimps, this man has turned our image of government indifference upside down. His support for transferring the use of federal dollars from research labs to the sanctuary system has done more than we had a right to hope to advance the quality of life for these chimps.

DiCaprio, on the other hand, has single-handedly given the implicit “green light” to lesser actors who know that appearing with a baby chimpanzee increases the delight of an audience that is ignorant to the exploitation by chimp trainer Pam Rosaire (and a dwindling number of other trainers). By his conscious decision to be filmed with chimpanzee Chance in Wolf of Wall Street – even though his character’s true story never involved a chimp – he has used his star power to set back the progress we were making in convincing Hollywood to stop their decades-long exploitation of chimps.

Several animal welfare organizations and ape protection groups have correctly called for a boycott of Wolf of Wall Street. We need to go further. We should boycott Leo DiCaprio, the man who had nothing to lose by standing up against the use of the chimps in entertainment but decided, instead, to join the ranks of the exploiters.

People are not happy with government. We are enraged by the dysfunction of Congress, the failure of government to hold Wall Street and big banks accountable, the “1984”-ishness of an intelligence complex run amok… While we fight against the faceless government institutions that degrade humanity, however, we must recognize the federal employees whose decisions lift us up. We need to recognize Dr. Francis Collins, the man who ended exploitation for most of the federally-supported research chimpanzees. 

Dr. Collins is my Person of the Year. Leo is an ass.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Chimp advocates gave us much to be thankful for this year

I'm thankful that the U.S. is closer to
the day when humans won't put chimps in
clothes to "entertain" us, as the Detroit Zoo
did. (1950 picture of  Joe Mendi II.)
2013 turned out to be a very good year for captive chimpanzees in the United States. Today is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., and I was thinking about all that I am thankful for…

…Congress passed, and the President signed, legislation that would lift the arbitrary cap on funding to pay for sanctuary care for the retired federal research chimpanzees. This would not have happened without the strong, united voice of a multitude of animal welfare organizations, led by the Humane Society. We all need to watch and support Chimp Haven as it builds new facilities and forms partnerships to provide lifelong and loving care for these chimps.

…Major chimpanzee exploiter Mike Casey – who allegedly used abusive techniques to train his chimpanzees for private parties and store openings, etc. --was finally forced out of business by a conglomeration of forces: a string of local government decisions to not grant him a permit to keep his chimps in residential neighborhoods; lack of business, as a result of a growing public awareness of the abuse chimpanzees are subject to when they are forced into a life of entertainment; and PETA’s constant vigilance and challenges to Casey’s every step.

…Sanctuaries continue to rescue chimpanzees. This year, chimps were saved from unacceptable care, a lonely life without sunshine in a human home, and an unsustainable research program.  The substandard Las Vegas Zoo closed after staff walked out, and solitary chimpanzee Terry was given a new life at Save the Chimps. After living her entire life in a 4x4 indoor cage, Katie was given a new life – with her sisters and brothers, who she never knew! – at the Center for Great Apes. And Canada’s Fauna Foundation was able to provide a new home for Tatu and Loulis after Central Washington University withdrew its financial support for the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute, forcing an end to one of the last ape language projects.

All this, and more, made for a terrific 2013. One more action could really cap off the year: a proper U.S. Fish and Wildlife decision on the endangered status of captive chimpanzees. So many more chimpanzees would be saved from research, entertainment, and “pet” breeding if FWS decides to revoke its double standard of “endangered,” which is granted to chimpanzees in the wild but not to chimps in U.S. captivity.

Animal welfare organizations, sanctuaries, and many zoos will continue to fight the good fight for captive U.S. chimps. I thank you all.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Has help arrived for Koko and Ndume?

This week’s news from The Gorilla Foundation – home of Koko and Ndume – is raising some cautious hope that the years of gorilla (non)care dictated by phone psychics may be nearing an end. TGF has quietly brought Ken Gold on board, to manage the “research” and gorilla care. They are still looking for an executive director, who would seem to have more power to implement needed changes, but I believe Gold’s hire is a promising development.
A gorilla expert is now at TGF to manage Koko's care.
Gold has a good resume, with stints at Apenheul Primate Park in the Netherlands, Singapore Zoo, and Night Safari. His strong suit is his academic work, which is impressive. His recent work as an inspector with the American Humane Association (the group that gives Hollywood cover when they use animal entertainers in movies) is troubling, but people who know Ken tell me he took the AHA job because he knew the needs of primates and would be better able to protect the monkeys and chimps than some of the other AHA inspectors on movie sets. With that mindset, he must be joining The Gorilla Foundation to make a difference, since it wouldn’t appear to be a wise career move if he is looking to advance in the primate research community, and it certainly isn’t something one would want to feature on a resume… unless he can make TGF respectable.

According to their bios, TGF’s Penny Patterson and Ron Cohn (president and vice president, respectively), are both around 66 years old, around the age when thoughts turn to retirement and rehabilitating reputations. Koko is 42 and Ndume is 32. While captive gorillas have been known to live to 55 years old, gorillas in the wild generally live from 30 to 40 years. Time is running out, and times have changed anyway. To leave a respectable legacy, Penny and Ron need professional help – and that could be Ken, who is one of the most qualified pros they’ve hired.

But will they listen and use his expertise? I hope Ken can institute better care for Koko and Ndume. I hope Penny and Ron are thinking rationally about the future and planning for a graceful end to TGF. And I hope they can set an example for their bonobo cousins in Iowa…

As I reported on November 3, the circus continues at Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate Research Sanctuary / Great Ape Trust / Insert Latest Name Here. I’ve noticed that Sue Savage-Rumbaugh has been absent from the public eye since late last spring, but the board is still flailing around, searching for a raison d'ĂȘtre. One could argue that their most important reason for existence is to provide proper care for their bonobos, but they have failed to bring in a great ape professional or even to consult with bonobo experts. Their carnivals are flops, their artist colony and robobonobo were fantasies, and no self-respecting university will touch them. They need to get a clue from a rehabilitated TGF.

We still don’t know if things will actually improve at the Gorilla Foundation. Gold has a good enough resume on paper to make Penny look good, and most everyone I talked with thinks he’s a good guy, but – I can’t stress this enough – there are some questions about whether he has enough hands-on experience to challenge what Penny is doing (or not doing). Can Ken Gold make a difference?

Fingers are crossed. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The circus continues at Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary

If the latest announcements coming from Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary are any indication, they are attempting YET ANOTHER “turnaround.” An excellent article by Joe Gardyasz, of the Business Record, gives the details of a reorganization that many of us were wondering about.

Great Ape Trust has now been restructured into two boards: “an international board that oversees its bonobo research programs through an organization called Bonobo Hope, as well as a new local IPLS board of directors to oversee the Des Moines facility.” Gardyasz doesn’t list the members of the Bonobo Hope board, and of course the Bonobo Hope/IPLS website doesn’t list them either -- although its banner does advertise $10 tickets to “Kanzi’s Carnival”! (Really, they are promoting themselves as a circus. And they wonder why no one takes them seriously...)

The article does list five members of the IPLS board but, unfortunately, none of the directors charged with overseeing a great ape facility have a professional background in great ape care.

Nor have the board or the new director evidently availed themselves of any expert opinions on what it will take to actually make this a sanctuary. Or a research facility. Or a roadside zoo. Or an artists' colony. Or a new home for retired research chimps. Or whatever the hell they are thinking they want to be THIS TIME. See, that’s the problem. As they have for the past several years, they are tossing ideas out there, without any vision, to see what sticks, to see if anything attracts $$$.

Their new director, Steve Boers, tells Gardyasz that they are existing paycheck-to-paycheck “like most nonprofits.” Actually, no, Mr. Boers. Most non-profit primate sanctuaries are not that unstable. They have thousands of supporters, five-year plans, ten-year plans, legacy plans, consistent fundraising, and experienced people on their boards of directors. Sure, they all need more money, but they live up to the fiduciary responsibilities required of accredited sanctuaries. Unlike this organization.

So, how is GATI planning to pull itself out of their financial ruin? Granted, their ideas are many steps above their earlier ridiculous initiative to develop a robo-bonobo, but they are scary nonetheless.

Scariest of all is their “plan” to bring chimpanzees into their failed program. Reportedly, their new board president is a former Obama campaign worker, and he “is working with [U.S. Senator] Tom Harkin’s office on legislation that would enable the sanctuary to house about 20 of the more than 300 government research chimpanzees that are being retired,” according to the article. This is not a new idea. Last spring they attempted to get 500 signatures on a petition asking former sugar daddy Ted Townsend to “support the efforts of IPLS to become a Federal Sanctuary for chimpanzees who have served as subjects in biomedical research.” (As of today, the petition has 370 signatures.) Last spring, when I asked the National Institutes of Health about the frightening possibility of sending retired chimps to IPLS, NIH press officer Renate Myles assured me “any new sanctuary addition to the Federal Sanctuary System would have to meet very high standards, be approved by the Chimp Haven Board, and would be funded through a subcontract from Chimp Haven (all of this is outlined in the CHIMP Act).” Fat chance of that happening, since they aren’t even an accredited sanctuary; thus, their attempt with Senator Harkin to lower the federal standards so they can get chimpanzees and, not incidentally, the federal dollars that would come with the chimps.

Other ideas that the facility shared with the reporter:
  • Partner with either Iowa State University or the University of Iowa to own the sanctuary.
  • Meet with Iowa conservation officials to “offer the facilities to the state to own,” Gardyasz writes. I’m not sure if this means selling it to Iowa, or donating it.
  • Look for corporate donors who “could understand and take the science to the next level like it needs to be,” Boers says. (At the same time, according to past board president Ken Schweller, who is now on Bonobo Hope's “international scientific board,” the board has put a moratorium on active research. Indeed, they no longer have the certification they need to receive federal funding for research, and one wonders what kind of science corporations would sponsor.)
  • Partner with the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau, to be a tourist destination.
  • Coordinate with the Science Center of Iowa’s current National Geographic world explorers exhibit to evidently showcase their non-existent “science.”
  • Host corporate events at the facility.
So sad. So many ideas and no vision.

Perhaps the most important part of the article is a Q&A that the Business Record posed to Gay Emerson Reinartz, who leads the AZA Species Survival Plan for bonobos. Please read the article to get the full extent of Gay’s comments. Her response to the question about options for placing the bonobos in a zoo stands out:
“If the center has insufficient long-term financing, what are the alternatives? Should the facility have to close, the Species Survival Plan would attempt to work with IPLS, their staff and others to find a solution that would be in the best, long-term interest of the bonobos. However, this involves a much deeper analyses of space and group dynamics. Without knowing the personalities and social needs of the bonobos in Iowa, it will require time to assess the best placement of individuals/groups. To answer these questions requires open dialogue, analysis, and collaboration. 

Unfortunately for the bonobos involved, GATI/Bonobo Hope/IPLS continues to show a disappointing preference for operating as a circus. One can only (and eternally) hope that someday they will decide that the preferred options are those they have so far scorned: the dialogue, analysis, and collaboration that Gay suggests. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

I nominate Ndume for Gorilla SSP Facebook banner

As I’ve discussed in earlier posts, Ndume (the feces-flinging gorilla with a heart) has been abandoned by his owners and lives without any contact with other gorillas. While Ndume lives in isolation at The Gorilla Foundation, he is only there as a “loan” from the Cincinnati Zoo, which is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The AZA zoos that exhibit gorillas cooperate on a “species survival plan” (the Gorilla SSP) that is supposed to address care and welfare issues as they ostensibly manage their captive populations. In April, I learned that the SSP had drafted a masterplan that makes recommendations to zoos about gorilla transfers, among other things. The draft reportedly recommended that Ndume be moved back to Cincinnati.

It is six months later, and no transfer has been forthcoming. Did the recommendation make it into the final plan? Has the zoo community forgotten about Ndume again? I hope that people are acting behind the scene, but that may be whistling in the wind. I am afraid that Cincinnati Zoo – which loudly touted itself in the media, as it brought reporters in to see how deeply they cared for cute (money-making) baby gorilla Gladys – has declined to accept its responsibility for their lonesome old bachelor.

It’s time to remind both Cincinnati Zoo and the AZA Gorilla SSP that we haven’t forgotten.

Every month the SSP asks for nominations for their Facebook banner. Even though I am obviously not a member of the group, I think they need a daily reminder that Ndume is depending on them. So I nominated Ndume.

BTW, despite APHIS’ earlier assurances that they will continue to monitor Ndume’s health and living conditions, there have been no visits, no inspections. I wrote APHIS earlier this week, urging an inspection and reminding them about the issues that affect Ndume’s welfare. Let’s see if they remember…

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Notorious chimp owner goes out of business, is arrested

This week we saw more evidence that the era of chimpanzee entertainment is ending. Chimp owner and exploiter James “Mike” Casey has left the arena, in notorious fashion. Through his company “A ‘Great Ape’ Experience,” Casey has been renting out chimpanzees and a capuchin monkey for use in TV, films, ads, and events. In June, we learned he was trying to sell his chimps. In July, his USDA exhibitor license was cancelled. In August, we learned of his arrest.

Casey's ad started appearing in June, 2013

PETA reported yesterday that they obtained records, through a public-records request, that reveal that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission arrested Casey last month at a roadside zoo, where he intended to sell three chimpanzees unlawfully. (Also see Las Vegas KLAS CH8 News reports.)

Why would Casey break the law to get rid of his chimps?

One reason is that he is probably desperate. He doesn’t have any place to keep them. For the past couple of years he has been living in Nevada, but his luck ran out. No county in Nevada will give a permit to keep chimpanzees in a community where parents want to keep their kids safe. Clark County denied him a permit last year. Nye County authorities denied a permit this year. No responsible local government wants him and his chimpanzees, for good reason. Mark Winer, a Casey friend, told KLAS News that the “chimps were kept in cages inside a darkened, brutally hot recreational vehicle and were rarely allowed out. ‘He would absolutely hit them atop the head with his knuckles,’ Winer said. ‘(The RV) was horrible. I wouldn't stay in there. I wouldn't let my worst enemy stay in there.” Amazingly, after talking to Casey in 2011, USDA APHIS Animal Care Inspector Warren Striplin recommended that the APHIS Office of Investigative and Enforcement Services conduct an official investigation of Casey. Even more amazingly (or maybe not), investigators evidently declined.

Maybe Casey was trying to sell illegally because owning chimps isn’t as fun as, say, a barrel of monkeys. While Casey cuddles with his adorable chimps in public, and displays pictures of kids cuddling with them as well, his friends know the real story. Again, from Winer: “He would pound on the cage, yell, take a stick and hit the cage or not feed them until they stop making noise. Mike has a very bad temper. He doesn't show that to the public.” Worse has been alleged. Winer said Casey cares about the chimps only because they are his meal ticket. If that’s the case, Casey has been on a starvation diet for the past couple of years, at least if he was telling the truth to federal Agricultural Department inspectors.

When animal exhibitors travel with their animals, they are required to file itineraries with USDA. In Casey’s case, his gigs have been few and far between. You can see the frustration in his itineraries. These are from his actual reports to USDA:

December 12, 2009: “We are traveling to Las Vegas & Pahrump, NV from Dec 12-January 12, 2009, with (3) chimps Hannah, Kenzy & Bentley, and capuchin Abu. It has been really tough and slow for work out here in the Midwest. We will be looking for property & employment.”

January 12, 2010: “We are traveling between Las Vegas & Pahrump, NV and over to Southern, CA from Jan 12 - February 15, 2010, with (3) chimps Hannah, Kenzy & Bentley, and capuchin Abu. We are continuing to look for property. There has been no exhibiting of the animals if a job comes up I will notify you immediately.”

Again, on February 15, 2010: “We are traveling between Pahrump, NV, Las Vegas and over to Southern, CA from Feb 16 - March 16 2010, with (3) chimps Hannah, Kenzy & Bentley, and capuchin Abu. We are continuing to look for property & work. There has been no exhibiting of the animals if a job comes up I will notify you immediately.”

April 10, 2010: “We are traveling between Las Vegas, down to Laughlin, Pahrump, NV & Southern CA from Apr 17 - May 17, 2010, with (3) chimps Hannah, Kenzy & Bentley, and capuchin Abu. We are continuing our search for property & work.”

May 8, 2010: “We are traveling between Las Vegas, NY and over to Southern, CA from April 25 - May 25 2010, with (3) chimps Hannah, Kenzy & Bentley, and capuchin Abu. We are continuing to look for property & work. There currently is a possibility of a day job on May 22 in Los Angeles, CA, I will notify you if it becomes a real job.”

In his reports through the summer, Casey continues to bemoan the lack of work, continuing through Sept 2 and 21, 2010, when Casey reports that “We are currently staying with a friend at his residence: [redacted] I am continuing to look for work and for property in Las Vegas or in California.” On Oct 15, Casey reports “We just moved to: [redacted] I am continuing to look for work and for property in Las Vegas or in California.” Then the reports end for at least six months. (More recent itinerary reports, if they exist, are not available.)

On June 27, 2013, the USDA inspector attempted to inspect the chimps’ living conditions. The inspector reported: "A responsible adult was not available to accompany APHIS Officials during the inspection process at 0830 on 6/27/2012. Spoke with Mr Casey by telephone at time of attempted inspection. He stated he was out of town. He also stated he did not intend to pursue USDA licensing. Mr. Casey is currently licensed, but has not passed a site approval inspection. Until such time as he cancels his license, he remains subject to inspection."

On July 5, the USDA exhibitor license for JAMES M. CASEY, dba A "GREAT APE" EXPERIENCE, was cancelled. There is no more work for (3) chimps Hannah, Kenzy & Bentley, and capuchin Abu.

James “Mike” Casey has brought this mess down on himself. It is just really unfortunate that his chimps and monkey are the ones who have suffered, and continue to suffer. Casey had a chance to do the honorable thing, finally. But instead of working out an agreement with a reputable sanctuary, Casey allegedly tried to dump them in a roadside zoo in Florida. They were confiscated by Florida wildlife officials and are now at the non-accredited Suncoast Primate Sanctuary – an outfit that was in non-compliance with minimum conditions during USDA APHIS inspections in 2011 and 2013.

Time and public awareness have passed Casey by. The public is no longer willing to accept the idiocy of using chimpanzees in entertainment. It helps ease the outrage to know that Mike Casey may finally be held accountable. But the fate of Mike Casey’s chimpanzees and monkey are the real crime here. Let’s hope Florida officials give them a chance at a real life in a real legitimate sanctuary.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Changing historical Detroit Zoo chimp facts

I’ve mentioned (like, a couple hundred times) that one of dad’s favorite chimps from the 1940s and ‘50s was Jo Mendi II, named after Detroit Zoo’s money-making trend-setting FIRST Jo Mendi chimpanzee. Well. Just shows you’re never too old to learn new facts. Come to find out, there was a Jo Mendi before the Detroit Zoo’s first Jo Mendi! The zoo’s first Jo Mendi was actually the second Jo, and Jo II (who dad trained) was actually Jo III. And Jo Mendi 3 (1979-2005) is actually the fourth. (The Detroit Zoo really liked the name Jo Mendi – thus we have multiple generations of Detroiters who all think they saw “Jo Mendi.” And, in a way, they did, in the sense that they saw a smart chimp in costume, doing zany tricks and being exploited by the zoo.)
Jo Mendi II/III is in the center. Dad is the chimp trainer on the right.
Thanks to a wonderful blogpost, The True Story of JO MENDI, now we know the rest of the story (as Paul Harvey used to say). And that story is fascinating. Step right up, folks, and read all about it! The original Jo Mendi was at the Scopes Trial! He was in vaudeville, movies, circuses and carnivals - but he never came to the Detroit Zoo. The second Jo Mendi (who was the Jo Mendi who ended up at Detroit) was in a Billy Rose revue! (If you’re trying to place the name, see James Caan in Funny Lady.) And more. That’s “more,” as in Detroit blogger Ed Golick thankfully reminding readers that while the public loved our entertaining chimps, we didn’t know about the abuse behind the curtain.

Many, many thanks to Ed for bringing these facts to light. I can’t help but think that these facts about yet another Jo Mendi further illustrates the cynical exploitation that is our shameful history of chimpanzees in the United States. That exploitation is a fact. Perhaps, though, with the upcoming U.S. Fish and Wildlife decision about chimpanzee endangered species status in the U.S., that fact will soon become history.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Humans support a chimp who supports an orangutan – and you can help with just a vote!

In 2005, four chimpanzees escaped from a depressing roadside zoo. While they dashed around the grounds – and actually made it to the downtown area – the zoo director shot and killed three of them: Reuben, Jimmy Joe, and Tyler. The fourth, an enterprising 15-year-old chimp named Ripley, ran back to his enclosure and let himself back in. I guess watching your companions die violently will end any misconceptions of freedom.

Ripley is now back in the public eye. Not as a basket case who attacked a caregiver, which would be understandable, or as a wretched example of primate PTSD. Ripley, it turns out, is an artist. He is one of six chimpanzee artists involved in a contest put on by the Humane Society of the United States. He has a chance to win $10,000 for the Center for Great Apes, the sanctuary that rescued him, if he garners enough votes from the public.

The American public once adored Ripley. Before his trauma at Zoo Nebraska, Ripley was in movies and television, in Ace Ventura and on Seinfeld. However, like every entertainment chimp before and after him, he grew too strong for his handlers – so he was dumped at a pitiful zoo. After witnessing the deaths of his companions, he was sent to a breeding facility (where he failed to breed), and then to another. After a year there, the trainer agreed to send Ripley to the Center for Great Apes.

Ripley was a real audience-pleaser on the Seinfeld TV show.

The Center for Great Apes is giving Ripley the best life a captive ape could hope for. He now lives with several old friends and a new one: Bubbles, Michael Jackson’s discarded pet chimpanzee. And he is painting.

The Humane Society’s online art contest asks us to vote for the painting of one of six chimps, all representing superb sanctuaries. Choosing just one is difficult (they are all wonderful!) but if you don’t have a particular favorite already, I hope you’ll vote for Ripley.

As it turns out, CGA will use the money to help offset some tremendous medical bills incurred by a recent life-and-death struggle of former entertainer orangutan BamBam. That’s what makes a vote for Ripley so… I don’t know… so “circle of life.” Humans supporting a chimp who is supporting an orangutan. It just shows how we’re all in this together.

  • Read more about Ripley, here.
  • Charles Siebert wrote about Ripley and the Center for Great Apes in his book, Wauchula Woods Accord. (If you read it, know that Siebert made up the book’s ending, as a “literary device.” He has admitted that his story about going into the apes’ night house and touching the chimp’s hand is false.)
UPDATE 8/29/2013: HSUS announced that Ripley won 3rd place, for a $2,500 grant for Center for Great Apes. Many thanks to all who voted for Ripley!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A tale of two books

I haven’t written much in the blog lately. I write a lot at work, so I really need a motivating factor to sit down to the blog… Those motivations are usually when I see people disrespecting apes, or using apes for their own selfish gains, or when I am inspired by compassionate concern for apes. So when I learn of two new chimp books that are on the publishing horizon, I naturally wonder about the authors’ motivations.

 In his upcoming compassionate book about chimpanzees,
Halloran writes about Jo Mendi II and my dad.
In the first case, the author’s motivations are simple yet complex: this is the book he had to write. I am privileged to see Andrew Halloran’s first draft of Lion Shaped Mountain (working title), and it is filled with inspiring stories as well as heartbreaking histories of chimps and the people who used and abused them. He weaves his narratives between the past and the present, and I marvel at his perception. Most important to me, personally, are his insights as he briefly shares the story of my dad and Jo Mendi II, the Detroit zoo chimpanzee who meant the most to him. I hold my breath as I read it, and then I cry. And now I hope… I hope that readers will understand and learn from the all too real experience.

In the second case, the author’s motivation is exploitation and greed. Doc Antle, the self-serving charlatan who exploits his animals for profit (while masquerading as a conservationist), is once again publishing a book of photographs that add to the grotesquely darling perception of apes as cute human toys. Scheduled for release in November, just in time for Christmas sales, his upcoming attempt at manipulation is The Tiger Cubs and the Chimp, another in his series of anthropomorphous swindles, as he continues to con naive animal lovers into thinking that baby animals just adore being forced into unnatural situations for long photo shoots and book tours. I don’t know for sure, but the chimp featured in this book may be his third chimp infant from breeder Connie Casey.

So. We have two books, both of them sad in their own way. The first one is heartbreaking because it honestly relates the disgraceful way we have treated chimps in the past; the second one is wretched for the way it treats chimps today. We have one situation where the author is pouring his heart into his book, finding the words that will help people understand chimps as they are, as they are meant to be. We have another situation where the author is manipulating cute pics of baby tiger cubs and a chimp to promote his faux “preserve for endangered animals,” creating an illusion that fulfills our fantasies of how we want our animals to be.

I wonder which book is going to make the most sales. I’ll bet, sadly, it’s not the book that offers the reader a deeper examination of the complex issues and emotions that have harmed chimpanzees through the centuries. It won’t be the book that inspires “ah, I understand.” It will be the book that inspires “aw, ain’t that cute?!” And that is truly sad.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Caesar's false reality is one thing, Kanzi and Koko are another... aren't they?

Movie producers are engaging in a social
media campaign, hyping the idea of the
Simian Flu. How many people will fall for it?
This is getting exciting. Andy Serkis is reportedly in filming now for the 2014 movie, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, where he brilliantly uses performance capture technology to portray Caesar, the chimpanzee who leads the apes in their revolt against humanity. (It looks like the apes will be helped by the insidious Simian Flu, which is on track to decimate civilization.) A year ahead of time, they are hyping the already hyped-up audience that loved Rise of the Planet of the Apes. And love it, they did! I'm still getting blog traffic from people asking Google, “are the apes in Rise of the Planet of the Apes real?” (For the record, no they aren’t.)

Technology now allows us to present actors as apes. Social media pushes news of an emerging Simian Flu epidemic. Entertainment produces an alternative reality. Which begs the question… Where else is technology and social media giving us a “reality” that doesn’t exist? (Beside Anthony "Carlos Danger" Weiner, of course.)

I recently had this Facebook message exchange about Penny Patterson’s Gorilla Foundation and Sue Savage-Rumbaugh’s Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary:

Message from FB friend: “I'm observing total quiet from The Gorilla Foundation FB page. Nothing since her birthday. Woke up thinking about Ndume wondering what will happen with him if/when Koko kicks the bucket? Did you ever see Weekend at Bernies? It wouldn't surprise me if Penny keeps it a secret and pretends Koko is still alive, posting old pics and vids. Koko is her money train.”

Me: “Now that's an amazing thought... and just as valid for Savage-Rumbaugh and Kanzi. We wouldn't know if either of these obese animals [Kanzi or Koko] finally succumbed... Hmmm.”

FB friend: “Nope, the public would never ever know. They post old pics now, some are photo-shopped. They’ve got gazillons of media material, enough to last another lifetime.”

Surely, that’s too fantastic to even contemplate. Isn’t it?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

How many ways can Savage-Rumbaugh say scofflaw?

Federal inspectors have officially warned the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary (aka Great Ape Trust, aka Bonobo Hope) to stop contact between their bonobos and the public, as we reported in April. And yet they persist, deliberately flaunting ape management practices that would keep bonobo Teco and humans safe and healthy.

This video of Teco celebrating a "birthday party" in free and direct contact with humans -- with small children present -- was posted on Facebook. Granted, the adults at the party may be volunteers, as distinct from "the public," but, really, it's a crying shame that Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and other IPLS management simply do not understand the risks of disease transmission, especially between children and apes. And they evidently scorn the idea of letting Teco grow up as a bonobo, and not as a plaything for IPLS management, staff, volunteers, and their children.

A "scofflaw" is a person who intentionally and repeatedly flouts the law. This repeated practice at IPLS may not be in violation of U.S. or state law but, as we've seen, the practices at IPLS repeatedly flout the "law" of common sense, good judgement, and federal inspection directives.

Oh, and just in case someone pulls that video off of Facebook, here's a screengrab from this morning...

Monday, June 10, 2013

Gorilla Foundation looks for transport cages, raises hopes for Ndume

Regular blog readers will know that I’ve been on the side of former caregivers who argue that gorilla Ndume deserves a chance at a decent life – away from his isolation under the “care” of Penny Patterson and The Gorilla Foundation. (See here and here and here.) We’ve been urging Cincinnati Zoo, Ndume’s owner, to take him back, and the American Zoological Association’s recent draft animal management plan for gorillas made that recommendation.

Is it actually happening? This note popped up today on Facebook.

Christina Herron is one of the two Gorilla Foundation caregivers who stayed on after the mass exodus of staff. Her note, posted on the Gorilla SSP Facebook page says: "Gorilla Transport cages. Does anyone have a company preference for quality gorilla transport cages? The sanctuary (sic) I work at is looking to update ours, but the company previously used is no longer in business. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!"

They may finally be moving Koko to Maui – or maybe, just maybe, Ndume is about to get a life.

Sheppersons make the right choice: pet chimps will go to Houston Zoo

UPDATE: The chimps arrived at Houston Zoo on October 29. Yay!
It is so rare -- and doubly wonderful -- when we have good news to report. And today started with GREAT news, thanks to Houston Zoo, Lincoln Park Zoo and soon-to-be-former chimp owners Curtis and Bea Shepperson.

In February, I blogged about the conundrum facing the Sheppersons, as they were ordered to find a new home for four unpermitted chimps. Here is the press release announcing a win-win-win!

Pet Chimpanzees Will Relocate to Houston Zoo – Just in Time

Lincoln Park Zoo’s Project ChimpCARE facilitated move

(Chicago – June 10, 2013) Six chimpanzees currently living at a residence in Mechanicsville, Va., will find a new home at Houston Zoo later this year, thanks to long-running efforts by Lincoln Park Zoo’s Project ChimpCARE, Houston Zoo, and Curtis and Bea Shepperson, the chimps’ current owners.

The news comes ahead of a county-issued June 23 deadline to relocate four of the chimps and ensures a bright future for the animals, as they will be able to remain together as a family unit in an accredited zoo.  The Sheppersons had been under pressure from local officials to relocate the chimpanzees because of a recent escape and lack of proper licenses. No suitable placement options were available – until now.

“This is an extremely positive resolution for everyone involved, but most of all for the chimpanzees themselves,” said Dr. Steve Ross, head of Lincoln Park Zoo’s Project ChimpCARE and chairman of the chimpanzee Species Survival Plan (SSP), who first began working with the Sheppersons in 2010. “Keeping the chimps together in their social group is unquestionably the best move for their wellbeing, and the animals are now poised to receive the lifetime care they deserve. This outcome is a testament to what good can come from cooperation by people on all sides of an issue.”

That cooperation is at the heart of Project ChimpCARE, whose goal is to provide suitable housing for all of the some 2,200 chimpanzees living in the U.S. by promoting collaboration between accredited institutions and private owners like the Sheppersons.

“We have looked after these chimpanzees for most of their lives, and we will miss them dearly when they go,” said Curtis Shepperson. “But, we have always wanted what is best for them, and sending all six chimpanzees as a complete group to Houston Zoo is just that.”

This is the second time Project ChimpCARE and Houston Zoo have collaborated.  In 2009, ten chimpanzees took up residence in Houston’s new exhibit after years working in the entertainment industry; the chimps have flourished there.

“We are delighted to offer a home to this troop,” said Beth Schaefer, Houston Zoo’s Curator of Primates and Carnivores. “Our proven experience with privately-owned chimps puts us in a unique position to provide the best possible care for these animals. Our chimp habitat is the newest in the nation and is widely regarded as one of the world’s pre-eminent facilities.”

The move is expected to take place later this year, pending veterinary examinations, and logistical details are still under development. But everyone involved agrees this is the long-awaited happy ending to a complicated and emotionally-charged story.

For more information about Lincoln Park Zoo’s Project ChimpCARE visit:

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A new era for apes in entertainment and advertising

All my life, since watching dad train the Detroit Zoo chimpanzees in the 1950s, I've known how delightful chimps can be in entertainment. All those decades, I was ignorant about what the chimps experienced. The horror of being taken, forever, from a loving mother. The fear instilled during the training process. The pain of chains, pulled teeth, and small cages that are often the facts of life behind the “entertainment” experience. The sadness of missing tickles and grooming from other chimpanzees. The screwed up culture of living by weird human obsessions, like dressing the chimps in costumes and putting them on pills.

Now, finally, there is an achievable alternative. It is a new era.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Ape ownership: it is the principle of the thing

One thing you can say for animal lovers: we sure are a principled bunch. Note how much of our treatment of great apes – and each other – is based on principle. After all, aren't we all taught to fight for our principles, especially in protecting "family"? And where does that leave us?

Mike Casey, the chimpanzee breeder who uses his trained chimps for parties and advertising, firmly believes it is his right to train, keep, beat, and use his animals as he sees fit, even if it means flouting community zoning regulations. “They are my family,” Casey said, when local officials in Las Vegas denied his permit to keep the chimps in a residential neighborhood. He subsequently moved them to Nye County, Nevada, where he also doesn’t have a permit to keep them.

On the other hand, PETA representatives – who are fighting for the principles they believe in – are urging the Nye county officials to put the interests of the chimps and the community above Casey’s desires.

CH 8 says this is Casey's ad
(Update 6/10/13: Las Vegas TV station 8 is reporting that Casey has put his chimps up for sale. What a stupid, stubborn ass: after all the money he made from exploiting chimps, he should pay to give those chimpanzees a good life at a sanctuary.)

(Update 8/23/13: Reportedly, Mike Casey has been arrested by Florida wildlife agents, for allegedly trying to illegally sell his chimps there.)

The standoff continues in the Curtis Shepperson case, who is also keeping four chimpanzees illegally in a backyard “zoo,” without the required county permits. Hanover County, Virginia, officials told him he could face criminal charges if he doesn't get rid of the four chimps by June 23. (Shepperson has permits for two other chimps.) They are like family, Shepperson told reporters.

On the other hand, Save the Chimps, the sanctuary best situated to take in the Shepperson chimpanzees, is standing by its principles and won’t take them. “Mr. Shepperson has not so far agreed to send all six chimps to sanctuary,” Jen Feuerstein told me in February. “STC has a policy that individuals giving up custody of chimpanzees must not engage in further commercial/entertainment/research/pet activity with chimpanzees.” (Jen also notes that, in February, they did not have capacity to take in additional chimpanzees, “but hope to at some point this year.”)

(Update 6/10/13: Unlike Mike Casey, the Sheppersons have decided to do the right thing. They are giving the chimps up to the Houston Zoo, where they will be able to stay together as a group.)

Kanzi's gross obesity doesn't seem to bother
his "principled" owner.
Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary continues to struggle with its principled stand in maintaining Sue Savage-Rumbaugh’s control over several bonobos. Rumbaugh has assumed the role of mother for little bonobo Teco, asserting her right to raise a “bicultural” family. (As this picture shows, Rumbaugh’s principle for feeding grossly overweight Kanzi is “let them eat cake.”)

On the other hand, the animal welfare community isn’t playing along with Rumbaugh any longer. IPLS evidently raised less than $1,000 at a recent “VIP fundraising event,” and had to cancel another fundraiser, according to this article. (Still, if this article is correct, IPLS continues to sell “private sessions with bonobos including Kanzi,” despite being told by federal inspectors to stop close contact between the bonobos and the public.)

Penny Patterson, over at the Gorilla Foundation, continues her principled stand in fundraising, using a calendar to perpetuate the (false) “links” between Koko’s kitten and anti-poaching efforts in Africa. Penny has, of course, become Koko’s surrogate family, friend… and…? Is there more to the “show Koko your nipples,” story? Ah, principled ex-employees aren’t talking (publicly).

And then we have poor gorilla Ndume, still isolated at Gorilla Foundation. I’m not sure what principle Penny is basing her treatment of Ndume on. On the other hand, I understand that the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Gorilla Species Survival Plan’s most recent draft management plan is recommending that Cincinnati Zoo take Ndume back. (Ndume is owned by Cinci, on loan to Penny). I also heard that Cincinnati Zoo agrees they need to take Ndume back. Unfortunately for people who are anxious about improving Ndume’s life, the zoo folks have a principle that prohibits them from sharing animal management information with us… so we all just have to cross our fingers and hope.

Dwight Eisenhower said, “a people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.” I think he’s on to something. I would argue that Casey, Shepperson, Rumbaugh, and Patterson are not differentiating between the “privileges” of private ownership and the principles of humane respect for the animals under their control. Laws, regulations, and community ethics towards animals – the principles of ape ownership – are changing. It’s time for ape owners to adapt to the new set of principles. Before everyone loses.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Detroit Zoo chimp show lessons won't be forgotten, thanks to International Zoo News

Dad training Detroit Zoo chimps for their show. 
The zoo community does not usually take criticism well, I’ve discovered, even when it is criticism about history. It was all the more surprising, then, when the International Zoo News accepted my article about the history of the Detroit Zoo chimp shows from 1932 to 1983. They published it in the IZN March/April edition that arrived in my mailbox today.

It appears that Richard Perron, the IZN editor, knew he might get complaints for publishing an article that some may view as hurtful to today’s zoo image. Part of his editorial addressed those concerns, pro-actively and accurately, I believe. Perron wrote:
“…There is no other industry where public opinion about it is so polarised as with zoos. By far the noisiest and most publicised utterances come from the detractors, either philosophically rejecting the keeping of animals or pouncing on some event or situation which they (often) misrepresent as animal cruelty, frequently I think only to justify their importance (and salary). In such a huge, diverse industry there will always be elements which are open to criticism and, like every other industry, there is continual change and improvement. Zoo supporters are usually not so strident in making their case, but might make more use of history to demonstrate how good the modern zoo is and counter some of the charges made by opponents. The article in this issue by Dawn Forsythe is an historical document and records a time when the treatment of animals in zoos and their presentation to the public was not humane and would not now be tolerated in any modern zoo. The article focuses on one specific institution during one period of its existence, the author being a keeper’s daughter, and the temptation to generalise the situation described to other zoos should be resisted and certainly not likened to current practices at that zoo. Some of the issues raised however are lessons which should be kept in mind when developing new visitor entertainments. 
“Zoos have come a long way in their history and discussing negative elements of the past can be no more damaging than reflecting on the misery of the Great Depression which prompted a new attitude to human welfare in the United States. 
“Unpleasant periods of history can be utilized to demonstrate ongoing improvement and to define the future path. Without a knowledge of history there can be no appreciation of the present nor any vision of the future…”

International Zoo News is available by subscription, and articles are not posted online until the year after publication. I have permission, however, to share my article, “Chimp Shows Amuse and Abuse,” with blog readers. 

I’d like to thank Mr. Perron for the opportunity to share the story of the Detroit Zoo chimp show era, and the chimpanzees whose lives were destroyed by it. Thank goodness that zoo era is behind us.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A crisis looms for critically endangered orangutans

I try to keep this blog focused on issues affecting captive great apes in the U.S., confident that many great organizations are tackling the huge primate issues around the world. Sometimes, though, a crisis is so immediate, and so potentially devastating, that I must add my voice to theirs. This is one of those times.

The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, led by conservation director Ian Singleton, is sounding the alarm about a plan in Indonesia that would be devastating for the critically endangered Sumatran orangutans. The Indonesian province of Aceh, on the island of Sumatra, is currently preparing to open over 1.2 million hectares of protected forest for the development of mines, plantations, roads, logging and palm oil expansion. This plan would reduce total forest cover of Aceh from 68% to 45% and will drive Sumatran orangutans, elephants, tigers and rhinos to extinction. (For more, see Mining company working with Indonesian government to strip forest of protected status.)

Jiggs and Sadie were Detroit Zoo's first captive orangutans in 1955.
To capture them, trappers in Indonesia likely killed their mothers. 
I have never seen an orangutan in the wild. But I can imagine the horror they face when the humans move in with fire and chainsaws, killing the adult orangutans and selling the babies.

I didn't pay much attention to captive orangutans when I was a kid. Even though the Detroit Zoo had orangutans in the 1950s, my heart was with the young chimpanzees there. I didn’t get to know the “wizards of the rainforest” until I met Lucy, Bonnie, Iris, Kiko, Batang, and Kyle at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. If you’ve spent any time at all looking into the eyes of your local captive orangutans, you know what I felt. They are behind bars, but I was the one who was captivated.

Since then, I’ve joined the thousands who support the Center for Great Apes, the only U.S. sanctuary that cares for ex-pet, ex-entertainment, and – recently – a couple of the Great Ape Trust’s ex-research orangutans. (I have a lovely painting by my favorite CGA orangutan, Louie. You do know that your home isn’t complete until you’ve got some ape art for the walls, don’t you?)

In meeting U.S. captive orangutans, you and I know about the intelligence, the individual personalities, and the emotional depth of orangutans. That familiarity makes knowledge about the crisis facing the wild orangutans in Indonesia all the more horrifying.

Please act!

In honor of the captive orangutans I’ve known and loved here in the U.S., I am taking three steps to help prevent the looming disaster in Indonesia. I hope you will do the same.

First, sign the petition to save Sumatra’s rainforest. It urges the Indonesia government to reject the plan to clearcut the Sumatra rainforest in Aceh. They should replace the plan with a version that includes the best available science.

Second, donate to the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, even if it is just a couple of dollars. They are urgently trying to raise $70,000 to stop this proposed plan and to save the forest from further destruction.

Third, honor orangutans everywhere by participating in MOM – Missing Orangutan Mothers – activities at a zoo near you this Mother’s Day. (See my 2011 blog post, Look into an orangutan’s eyes, to read about the devastating personal experience that motivated Holly Draluck to start the MOM campaign.)

Finally, help spread the word.

Thanks for all you do, for great apes in the U.S., and in their natural habitats.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Great Ape Trust looks for financial salvation at the federal teat

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse over at Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate (non)Learning (non)Sanctuary… IPLS has plans to ask the National Institutes of Health for 17 retired federal research chimps!
To secure a source of funding for
the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary,
Sue Savage-Rumbaugh wants to be a federal contractor.

Iowa Primate posted a petition on It is directed at former benefactor Ted Townsend’s organization, asking for financial support. The petition includes this nugget:
“Please also support the efforts of IPLS to become a Federal Sanctuary for chimpanzees who have served as subjects in biomedical research. Our goal is to give them an environment that enables travel, communication and the expression of free-will through symbolic communication.”
Screwing up a couple of bonobos isn’t good enough for Sue Savage-Rumbaugh. Now she wants to bring in poor research chimpanzees – who will finally be given a chance to recover from their research-imposed trauma – and subject them to travel? What, for more of her roadshow activities at Buddhist relic tours? Enabling symbolic communication? As if the greatest thing these chimpanzees want in life is to converse with Savage-Rumbaugh and IPLS director Julie Gilmore…

This is evidently a last ditch attempt to find a purpose. Research? Been there, failed to do that. School for robotics? What a disaster. Art colony? Clearer heads refused to fund it. Roadside sideshow for folks who want to cuddle a baby bonobo? Thank goodness federal inspectors called a halt to that! So what is left?

Sucking on the government teat is nothing new.
This 1806 political cartoon represents the British economy being
sucked dry by the demands for the war against Napoleon.
"More PIGS than TEATS, or the new Litter of hungry Grunters
sucking John Bull's old Sow to death"
Source: Lewis Walpole Library Digital Collection,
Yale University Library
Ah, the federal teat! If you can’t find money any other way, become a federal government contractor. Under the IPLS way of thinking, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have the experience, the knowledge, the staff, or the proper facilities… It doesn’t matter that the apes now under your care are fat, unhealthy, and would have great difficulties fitting into a normal captive ape society. It doesn’t matter that other organizations have offered to give the IPLS bonobos a good home, where they have a hope of rehabilitation. All that matters, evidently, is that IPLS is desperate for money, and the federal government has it.

And screw the chimps who have been screwed all their lives.

Actually, this scheme represents quite a turn-around for Savage-Rumbaugh. One ape expert tells me that she has referred to common chimpanzees as “trogs” – in disgust. Now the chimpanzees have a money stream attached to them, they must be pretty attractive. Bring in some retired "trogs," get a federal contract for their care, and use the money to keep Iowa Primates functioning. Sweet.

I heard last night that Savage-Rumbaugh wants to bring in 17 chimpanzees, so I asked some renowned ape experts for their opinions. For people who have been following the IPLS descent, the reactions won't be surprising.

Kathleen Conlee, vice president at the Humane Society of the United States, summarizes the opinions I've heard all day. "There have been continuing, serious concerns about the financial stability and level of animal care at the Iowa Primate Sanctuary," Conlee says, "and we would urge NIH not to retire government-owned chimpanzees to that facility, if there is such a consideration underway."

Other responses were more vivid…

“Oh, fuck!” wrote primatologist Andrew Halloran, author of The Song of the Ape.

“SHOOT ME NOW!!!” wrote a primate welfare expert.

"OMG, if it is true, it would be a catastrophe for those chimps,” one former IPLS associate wrote.

“I hope the NIH is set straight. This tells me they [IPLS] are truly desperate,” another ape expert told me.

Another expert was more positive. "I am SURE that NIH knows exactly what Sue's operation is all about..."

Sue Savage-Rumbaugh has stepped over an important line. It’s one thing to fight to keep control of bonobos who (you imagine) can talk, but it is another thing entirely to ask the federal government to subsidize fantasies and whims because all your other half-witted schemes have failed.

Besides, how would IPLS care for 17 more great apes? They are staffed almost entirely by volunteers; few (if any) with training or advanced knowledge of apes. The local grocery chain donates the food. It is a mystery how IPLS pays for their electricity, water, and heating, which is quite expensive. Additionally, they can’t build any new facilities on the campus until the Army Corps of Engineers clears it -- and that has been the case since the floods of 2008.

One ape welfare advocate has “no clue where IPLS would put 17 chimps. They don't have anywhere in the bonobo building for them, and the orangutan building, or at least the one I saw in [redacted], would not hold 17 chimps safely or effectively.”

Of course, the problem is bigger than even the lack of staff, inadequate facilities, and no clearance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (for pete’s sake!)… One note this morning stated it clearly:
"IPLS is not a sanctuary and it will not be as good as Center for Great Apes, or Save the Chimps, or Chimp Haven [the federal chimpanzee sanctuary] -- and don't chimps all deserve the same treatment and facilities and services?" asked Robert Ingersoll, a noted chimpanzee advocate who started his career working with language research chimp Nim and others. "I think they do."
"This is just selfish... the chimps are secondary in these decisions,” Robert said. “If the chimps’ needs were really primary, there would not even be a discussion."
"Once I get over being furious about this I will probably have more to say than ERRRRRRRRRRRRRR."
It isn’t clear whether IPLS wants some of the chimps who were recently retired from New Iberia Research Center, or if they are anticipating NIH’s plans for implementation of the recent recommendation to retire all but 50 of the federally-supported research chimps. If it’s the latter, then even the IPLS petition to Ted Townsend is purely speculative because NIH hasn't announced their new policy. Frankly, though, I think the distinction is lost on the IPLS folks. They want federal chimps… and access to the federal teat.

UPDATE 6:03 pm EDT, 4/17: NIH responded to questions I asked about IPLS possibly contracting for chimp care: "In response to the information you sent... as it currently stands, any new sanctuary addition to the Federal Sanctuary System would have to meet very high standards, be approved by the Chimp Haven Board, and would be funded through a subcontract from Chimp Haven (all of this is outlined in the CHIMP Act).  You should contact Chimp Haven if you have any questions about new sanctuary additions since they operate the Federal Sanctuary System."

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Gorilla Foundation misleads public on African venture

Go to The Gorilla Foundation website, and you will see lots of schemes designed to get people to donate money. Penny Patterson tries to convince people that Koko wants a baby – which will never happen. Penny likes to raise money for the Maui Preserve – which will never be built. They say they are partnering with the Biosynergy Institute in the Wildlife Protectors Fund – which evidently isn’t funding wildlife protectors at all. The Gorilla Foundation also touts its work in Africa, particularly for the Michael Gorilla Sanctuary – which doesn’t exist as a stand-alone facility.
WPF does not fund wildlife
protectors. It may not even exist.

The Gorilla Foundation website gives potential donors the distinct impression that TGF is intimately involved with the gorillas in Africa’s Mefou Primate Park, but they can’t even get the most basic facts right. Their website says that the Cameroon Wildlife Aid Fund manages Mefou Primate Park, but CWAF changed its name to Ape Action Africa four years ago. Ape Action Africa is responsible for all the resident animals (now over 330 primates) and for all the costs of managing the park.

The Gorilla Foundation touts its establishment of “Michael Gorilla Sanctuary.” What a laugh. The park has several fenced forest enclosures for housing gorillas, chimpanzees, and several species of monkeys. As I understand it, The Gorilla Foundation helped with the costs of building a gorilla enclosure – 13 years ago, in 2000. They asked that it be dedicated to the memory of gorilla Michael, Koko’s first non-companion, and Ape Action Africa continues to honor that request. Contrary to the impression given by The Gorilla Foundation, I heard from a good source that neither the Gorilla Foundation nor their inactive Wildlife Protectors Fund have contributed to the costs of caring for the seven gorillas who live in that enclosure, since it was built 13 years ago. (Why do I say WPF is inactive? Although The Gorilla Foundation continues to promote the Wildlife Protectors Fund, in order to attract donations, I was unable to find any such charitable organization listed with the Internal Revenue Service.)

Speaking of the Internal Revenue Service... I tried to wade through The Gorilla Foundation's IRS Forms 990, to see what I could find about their bally-hooed support for Michael Gorilla Sanctuary. While the forms are confusing, one thing is clear: The Gorilla Foundation does not support the gorillas who live in the enclosure, and they haven't helped with the support for years.

In their IRS Form 990 for 2007, The Gorilla Foundation claims to have made two donations ($10,000 each, for total contribution of $20,000) to the Cameroon Wildlife Aid Fund. But those IRS claims may be troublesome. At least one person remembers that the money was for another enclosure, which The Gorilla Foundation promised to fund, but (surprise, surprise) TGF reportedly never came through with the entire $20,000. In any case, this potentially overstated support for another gorilla enclosure seems to be the last for gorillas at the park.

In 2008, they claim $228,251 in Africa "conservation" expenses. They reported no support for the care of the gorillas in the Michael Gorilla enclosure. In their 2009 IRS Form 990, TGF claims they had $159,088 in expenses for "humane education and promotion of gorilla conservation through outreach programs in Africa..." Again, nothing for the support of the gorillas in Michael's enclosure. In the 2010 IRS Form 990 (the last one they've made publicly available at Charity Navigator), TGF claims they had expenses of $38,998 for gorilla conservation, yet they fail to report any contributions or grants to any organization whatsoever -- which may not be surprising, given that they reported a $433,000 operating deficit for the fiscal year ending May 2011.

The Gorilla Foundation website tries to make donors believe it supports and works with an African gorilla sanctuary. It doesn't.

The questions about The Gorilla Foundation's involvement in Mefou Primate Park go beyond the troubling lack of monetary resources for a sanctuary they claim to support. 

The Gorilla Foundation website states that the human caregivers and gorillas at Michael Gorilla Sanctuary “play together as a friendly family of great apes.” Bullshit. Years ago, when the gorillas were young, the caregivers went in with them, but times and policies have changed significantly. Ape Action Africa acts as a responsible sanctuary would; caregivers do not go in the enclosures, even with young apes. Their policy is to minimize human contact as much as possible, so the apes learn to be chimps and gorillas again.

The Gorilla Foundation website also says, “The caregivers and gorillas will begin interspecies communication research programs, to examine their natural communication systems.” It says that developing vocabularies “enables the best sanctuary conditions for apes.” Double bullshit. First, no interspecies communication programs have happened. None are ongoing, and none are planned. Second, Ape Action Africa’s Volunteer Handbook clearly explains that their goal is to give their animals “a safe forest sanctuary home where they can live with their own kind.” They recognize, as The Gorilla Foundation’s Penny Patterson does not, that minimizing human contact and giving rescued apes as natural an environment as possible are the best conditions for them.

Ape Action Africa rescues gorillas, chimpanzees, and monkeys who have been orphaned as a result of the illegal bushmeat trade and the pet trade. Many of the primates have been badly treated. The last thing rescued primates need is human exploitation in the field of interspecies communication, as practiced by Penny Patterson. 

Apes need people who will listen to their language, to understand what they need. They need peace, and respect for who they are – which is, by all reports, what Ape Action Africa tries to provide. And what The Gorilla Foundation does not.