A couple of years ago, Sara Gruen wrote Ape House, a novel that used the Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope / IPLS as her inspiration. Today, Ape House became a precursor to reality, albeit mightily overstated. On February 1, the bonobos at Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary became public spectacles, subject to paid public tours and personalized “one-on-one” sessions for the rich.
(Please, can we stop the silly charade and drop the highly misleading “sanctuary” from the name? “Learning” should go, too.)
|You, too, can see how bonobo Kanzi has grown morbidly obese|
I panned Ape House in my Amazon review, March 5, 2011: “After reading (and loving) Water for Elephants, I was really looking forward to this book. I had it pre-ordered from the moment I heard about it,” I wrote. “But I was disappointed. She touches on some important issues but the story line is weak. Okay, I get it, tough journalist meets sympathetic bonobo caregiver, and evil corporations seek to exploit human curiosity and, dare we say it, perversion. Unfortunately, it is difficult to empathize with any of the characters -- human or ape.”
In Ape House, the evil corporation puts bonobo Bonzi and his group on public display by using video cams to feature them in a reality TV show. Soon fans are lining up outside of their residential facility, salivating at the thought of seeing some of the bonobo sex that has been streaming onto their TV screens. At the real-life Iowa Primate, they haven’t gotten around to public access to video cams (yet), but they have opened up to public tours. And, for $3,000 to $5,000 minimum, you can get the one-on-one session. Whatever that is.
Several ape organizations allow public visits to their facilities, either by collecting “donations” or by wrapping it with a “membership day” moniker, so it would be unfair to castigate Iowa Primate for conducting public tours. The one-on-one sessions trouble me, however. I will leave it to the primate experts to discuss risks of transmission of germs and diseases, especially in view of Panbanisha’s death after she caught a cold. (BTW, where is that necropsy report?) I can raise awareness about other dangers. Based on the organization’s prior history of bites, accidents, and looniness (i.e., “scientists” believing that the bonobos and puppies speak in English), the rich patrons coming in for the one-on-ones might want to keep their fingers to themselves.
Some people are demanding that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (America’s regulating agency) step in to stop this. USDA knows about this and condones it. In October 2012, Iowa Primate had an initial inspection in applying for a “public exhibition” license; they flunked it. (See the USDA inspection report.) The inspector wrote them up on six violations and required them to come into compliance with two more inspections, or before January 29 2013, or give up the fee for their exhibitor’s license. They have evidently come into compliance.
One more note. The pictures of Kanzi that lead this post have caused deep consternation among ape experts. Kanzi is morbidly obese, which isn’t good for any primate (including humans), but is especially bad for him because heart disease runs in his family. People want to know why USDA does nothing. I wondered the same thing. I try to give the USDA inspectors the benefit of the doubt, but that is impossible in this case. I had several conversations with USDA about Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary. This is the last message they sent me, on Nov 8 2012, after I renewed my request for a report from their Sept 2012 inspection:
"There was no inspection report to speak of. A complaint had come in, so we followed our standard protocol and followed up on the complaint by looking into the matter. Our inspector visited the facility and conducted a very thorough evaluation, and found nothing that was out of compliance with the Animal Welfare Act regulations. The animals were each being properly cared for. This closes the matter for USDA."
If any of my wealthy readers decide to go one-on-one with an Iowa Primate bonobo, please let me know how it goes! USDA evidently isn’t interested. (P.S. Send pictures, too.)
For background on the Iowa bonobos, see Great Ape Trust.