Wednesday, January 2, 2013

USDA finds Gorilla Foundation "noncompliance" in veterinary care of Ndume

Today I received a response to my Freedom of Information Act request for information about a complaint I filed for the welfare of Gorilla Foundation’s solitary male gorilla Ndume. (Ndume is Koko's non-companion who lives by himself at the Foundation, playing his silent role in the "Koko wants a baby" fantasy.) On August 13, I wrote to USDA, passing on concerns that I heard from former caregivers, that Ndume was not receiving adequate medical and dental care. On December 31, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service wrote me a letter that included documents reporting on the inspection that USDA veterinarian Jeffrey Lee conducted in response to my complaint.  

“USDA APHIS Animal Care inspectors conducted a visual inspection of Ndume, an approximately 32 year old male gorilla on September 6, 2012. The written program of veterinary care (pvc), medical records, the veterinary visits log, immunization and weight records, and laboratory results were reviewed at time of inspection. Animal Care inspectors were accompanied by a facility representative who was knowledgeable in the daily care of Ndume. The inspection was in response to a complaint stating that Ndume had not received any medical or dental attention since his arrival at the Foundation more than 20 years ago.”

The inspectors found several instances of non-compliance, as their inspection report explains.

The inspection report also specifically addressed other concerns I had relayed.

“The veterinary visits log presented shows that between 9-4-04 and 12-23-11 the veterinarian visited the facility an average of 7 times each year,” the inspector reported, while also noting that “the veterinarian last visited the facility in February of 2012.”

“During the inspection, Animal Care inspectors conducted a visual inspection of Ndume. He was approximately 15 feet away at the side of his outside enclosure. He appeared bright and alert and his hair coat appeared healthy. Ndume was observed eating carrots and did not show any signs of dental pain or discomfort while chewing. According to the animal keeper, he likes to close his eyes while chewing and this is normal behavior for him. The animal care staff provided us with pictures they have taken of Ndume's teeth over the last 3 or 4 years. Since Ndume only opens his mouth for the animal care staff, they take pictures of them and pass them on to the attending veterinarian for review. There was no indication in the medical records that Ndume has had any dental issues.”

I’m grateful that USDA APHIS took concerns about Ndume seriously. I’m also grateful that an inspector ended the inspection report with a promise: “We will continue to monitor the facility on a regular basis.”
For background on the Gorilla Foundation, see our blog page on Koko.


  1. "According to the animal keeper, he likes to close his eyes while chewing and this is normal behavior for him."

    I guess he likes closing his eyes when he's regurgitating too, because that's also "a normal behavior for him".

    "There was no indication in the medical records that Ndume has had any dental issues."

    Was there even an indication in the medical records that the photos of his teeth were ever reviewed? If so, by whom? A qualified primate DVM?

    This report poses more questions than it provides answers.

    1. I understand your frustration. Regarding the regurgitating, however, readers should know that R&R -- regurgitation and reingestion -- is not that unusual in captive gorillas. We see it all the time with the National Zoo gorillas, and the issue is being studied. (

  2. Understood. My point is the statement is ridiculous, "he likes to close his eyes while chewing and this is normal behavior for him".

    Have they ever investigated the reason?

    Perhaps it's normal for him because the pain when chewing has become "normal" for him.

    Is the eye closing more of a 'wincing' with pain as his teeth come together, or closing eyes like a dream state "oh this is so good I want to close my eyes and enjoy"?

  3. It is good to hear that the USDA actually made the effort to investigate this claim. I am guessing that if there is a problem with his teeth, it has not reached the point where it would affect his ability to chew food. Hopefully they WILL keep an eye out in case there actually is a problem, but since they have allowed substandard care and gorillas to be housed in solitary confinement, I have my doubts. Too bad he can't communicate and let his caregivers know if there actually is a problem. Perhaps they could just ask their psychic, I hear this is how most medical decisions are they even have a qualified DVM on their staff?

  4. Wow, someone is actually paying attention to this place? I volunteered there several years ago an was appalled at the condition of the place. Money is going everywhere except to actually care for the gorillas and provide upkeep. Very sad.....

  5. Smash HLS has received a tip that The Gorilla Foundation has a close working relationship with Paul Houghton, the founder and CEO of Primate Products.

    Visitors to The Gorilla Foundation’s website can learn how Koko expresses happiness, sadness, anger and many other emotions. “Her empathy for others has changed our perception of gorillas forever,” the foundation writes, adding, “Gorillas clearly deserve basic personal rights such as protection from harm.”

    In the early 1980s, Primate Products was a one person company, with Paul Houghton marketing a primate restraint chair. He used the profits from sale of the restraint chair, a capture pole and other early products to enter the live animal side of the vivisection industry.

    Of course, the macaque monkeys that Primate Products sends to cruel deaths inside vivisection labs also are intelligent, emotional and very social animals. Don’t these monkeys deserve the same protection from harm as Koko?

  6. All species deserve protection from selfish cruel humans, even snakes and alligators!!!!!

  7. What will happen to him, if Koko does first?

  8. When a celebrity gets in trouble like Penny did in 2005, I am the type of person to say ,"leave her alone, everybody gets a second chance". She has 2 gorillas to take care of, that's it... there should be ZERO descrepencies in the inspection of Koko and Ndume. I believe Penny has a nest egg somewhere, meanwhile Koko is sitting in her little house viewing travel videos of Hawaii... a place she will probably never get to live. Can anyone find out how much money has been donated over the last 40 years?

  9. This article was recently shared on a Gorilla Foundation cheerleading Facebook page. One of the regular commenters and former TGF Board member posted his opinions, accusations, and very small minded long winded thoughts on Dawn and her blog disputing the facts while stating the blogs purpose is to keep her "in the spotlight."

    The truth is, Dawn is actually keeping the spotlight on Ndume and other primates in situations that would otherwise be overlooked and long forgotten.

    Dawn is Ndume's voice, and the voices of people who truly care about him and tormented by what we've witnessed and experienced.

    We signed, therefore we cannot speak.

    Thank you Dawn, for speaking the truth.

  10. Correction: former board member or former/current "consultant".

    Can't remeber, they seem to come and go too, just like the TGF staff.