Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Cincinnati Zoo abandons old gorilla while it promotes new baby gorilla?

There’s nothing cuter than a baby great ape. They aren’t bad for a zoo’s gate receipts, either. Granted, they don’t attract the kiddie mobs like baby pandas do, but the TV cameras show up quick enough, don’t they? Now that Cincinnati Zoo has accepted darling baby gorilla Gladys to be raised by human surrogates, those TV news reports, like this one from ABC, can be counted on to spur zoo visits by paying customers.

Cincinnati zoo keepers are acting as surrogates for gorilla baby Gladys
While the Cincinnati primate team is acting like gorilla moms, Ndume is living by himself at the Gorilla Foundation, without TV news crews, visitors, gorilla companionship or, it appears, any attention by his owner. The Cincinnati Zoo. Ndume, stud #0776, was born at Cincinnati Zoo on October 10, 1981. He was hand-reared and, after a 3-year unsuccessful stint at Brookfield Zoo from 1988 to August 1991, Ndume was finally transferred to The Gorilla Foundation on December 10, 1991. Over 20 years ago.

The Gorilla Foundation's entry in the gorilla studbook 

Former caregivers allege that Ndume is not receiving adequate dental or medical care by Penny Patterson, owner of Koko, the “talking” gorilla, but Cincinnati Zoo can’t be bothered by responding to requests for help.

Last week I got this note from a former Gorilla Foundation caregiver:
“I am hoping that [federal government inspectors] take a closer look at things since they were out to look at Ndume's teeth, but this is the same government agency that has done a poor job inspecting this facility in the past. It would be great if they actually took the time to do a thorough inspection… cleaning/disinfection protocol (or lack of protocol), pest prevention ( or lack of), expired medical goods, food prep area, including the hoarded and filthy house of Ron Cohn [on Gorilla Foundation premises]. If these items are found during an inspection, the board may be forced to act. It is so unfortunate that the USDA continues to let these items slip by... If these issues come up at the USDA inspection, I am confident that the current staff will not hide them.”
Why are hopes resting on USDA inspectors? (See earlier post, USDA finds Gorilla Foundation non-compliance on veterinary care of Ndume.) Why can’t we rely on Ndume's owners to guarantee adequate care?

A former caregiver had been secretly corresponding with Cincinnati Zoo. 
“They asked for any documentation,” the caregiver told me. “I said there isn't any except for the sign in sheet [that] the dog & cat vet signs when he comes into the office, without even seeing Ndume but [views him] from the driveway if Ndume happens to be outside. The zoo said they will investigate but nothing happened... Breaks my heart.”
Last summer, the caregiver sent a letter to Ron Evans, the zoo's primate team leader and one of Gladys' human surrogates.
Hi Ron,
I hope this note finds you in a good place.
Since I first reported to you, the caregiver staff has gone from 7 plus a manager to the current 3 (no manager). All of us resigned because of the unethical and immoral expectations and inadequate and inappropriate gorilla care directives and expectations.
Ndume is in grave danger as the Foundation further deteriorates. Ndume is used as a tool and continues to be neglected.
In this latest video Penny uses her smoke and mirror double talk trying to convince donors that a baby is still on the horizon for Koko. (http://www.koko.org/landing/video_blog/index1.poster.html) The truth is, Koko is signing she's hungry "loves" food (or a nut from Penny's vest pocket), Koko is too old for a baby, the facilities are completely ill-equipped for ANY arrival, and Koko and Ndume have not been together in the same living space since 2008.
Ndume has not yet received ANY medical or dental attention since his arrival at the Foundation more than 20 years ago.
This is wrong on so many levels.
 What, if anything are you planning as an investigation of the well being and safety of Ndume?
I look forward to your reply.
No reply.

I don’t know how Ndume is doing. I asked for help from folks with the American Zoological Association’s Gorilla Species Survival Plan. On Feb 22, I even sent a message to their Facebook account:
“I need some advice. I write a blog -- Chimp Trainer's Daughter -- and I keep getting awful reports about the condition of Ndume, at Gorilla Foundation. I've passed the reports to APHIS, but we know they don't necessarily go beyond the basics. I understand that Cincinnati Zoo owns Ndume, and I realize there's a real problem placing male gorillas in U.S. zoos, but isn't there anything that can be done? Can the SSP ask for an examination by an independent qualified vet and dentist? Or should I just tell Ndume's former keepers that nothing can be done? Advice, please! – Dawn”

I will be so disappointed if Cincinnati Zoo or the AZA Gorilla SSP doesn’t act. The conditions described by yet another former caregiver sound a lot like the ongoing disaster at the Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate [Faux] Learning Sanctuary.
“We've never had a set number of caregivers at the foundation... We were well staffed at 15 for two gorillas and that number has now dwindled to four. No one is really a long time employee at the foundation. Most people leave after 1-2 years. As of recently though, most people left due to the way that the gorillas are cared for and feel powerless that they can't make a difference for the gorillas. They also leave because yes, they thought they would be contributing to science and realized that science is somewhat non-existent at the foundation. Two research associates left due to the lack of scientific information and restrictions on being able to write and publish what they would like. There has also been a board member who was on the scientific board for over 30 years who up and left as well. The rest of the employees who left were all caregivers fed up with the way Penny runs things.”
I have no words to describe my sadness that the Cincinnati Zoo lets this situation continue.

There are no words for Ndume. Just oohs and aaahs for cute little Gladys.

*** UPDATE: Minutes after I posted this article, I received a message from a someone in the North American zoo community: "You probably know more about the situation than I do, but I have heard from an in-the-know, reputable source that Cincinnati sent someone out to to GF in the past month to take a look at things. I don't know what that means exactly and of course I can't confirm that, but know that even if people aren't responding to you directly, they are hearing you and the rest of the whistle-blowers. Hopefully something will come of it." I echo that hope.

For more information, Meet Ndume.


  1. "It is so unfortunate that the USDA continues to let these items slip by... If these issues come up at the USDA inspection, I am confident that the current staff will not hide them.”"

    I disagree. The current staff would hide issues from the outside. They will use the same "smoke and mirror" tactics, practices, and policies learned from their 'expert' leader. After all, she's had decades of experience hiding facts from the public (and donors).

  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYivMIkgCSA

    a glimpse of what ndume gets fed at the gorilla foundation. granted it's his birthday but there are no healthy greens or vegetables seen!

  3. This is no different than the situation at GAT. The USDA for the area most likely just inspected the meat packing plant, slaughter house, or puppy mill near by. Starving animals sitting in feces covered with flies is very obvious. A fat great ape sitting in a trailer would appear as a minor blip on the USDA's radar. USDA will find rats, mold,and peeling paint. The bar is very low to pass their inspection. Smoke and mirrors will easily allow any institution to pass. USDA is clueless about gorillas. Cincinnati needs to grow a pair and for once take a long hard look at all the gorillas they have dumped on other institutions because they were screwed up by antiquated nursery rearing. The list of gorillas with mental damage is very long. They call it "donation"..a kinder way to say dumped. Cinci: you care so darn much about the species then go right now and bring Ndume home. He deserves better than rotting in a trailer.

  4. I worked at the Gorilla Foundation when Ndume arrived. The zoo no longer wanted him because he threw feces and regurgitated food at visitors. It was an unfortunate set up from the beginning and of course, Ndume is the one to have suffered all these years. It saddens me that he still cannot be among other gorillas and enjoy the best life in captivity that can be provided. Zoos often take measures that only benefit the organization even as they claim they are stewards of the animals in their collections.

  5. Little gorillas raised in a fish bowl tend to grow up without the proper social skills needed, the gorilla culture, etc. Throwing feces is very common, regurging food is also very common. Throwing it at the visitors is a classic by product of an ape having been reared in a nursery setting behind glass with antiquated hand rearing techniques..Cinci has produced many of these males and all are farmed out to other institutions. Out of sight out of mind.

  6. I've had several private emails from people who know Ndume. They all say he is an intelligent gorilla who refuses to be broken. But I am also told that he has "no social skills," i.e., he threw feces at zoo people and volunteers once too often.

    The AZA gorilla studbook has him at Cincinnati Zoo, with a short foray at Brookfield Zoo before being sent back. Are there any zoo people out there who can shed some additional light on why he was transferred back and forth, and ultimately sent to the Gorilla Foundation? People have shared a couple of stories, some of them quite startling and sad, but I want to hear directly from zoo defenders too. Send me an email in confidence, chimptrainersdaughter@gmail.com.

  7. http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Koko-the-Gorilla-Gets-a-Makeover-196628391.html

    Same old fluff. The only thing they got right was the "pigpen" part. NBC should read "Silent Partners" and see why they are no closer to Maui than they were in the 90's. I suggest everyone contact NBC in SF and let them know that they are not reporting the REAL story.

  8. I worked at the Gorilla Foundation for more than a few years and I can assure you, the Hawaii thing was/is never even discussed by management and staff. The only time I heard mention of it was on the website when they'd be asking for funding. Smoke and mirrors. What else can they bring to the table? Research? A baby for Koko?

    And the baby thing, more smoke and mirrors. "Baby's cost money and we need your money to acquire a baby". Staffers pretended for a while that Penny was actually trying to get a baby for Koko. And maybe she was, but at no time was the foundation prepared to accept a baby gorilla, not for the last 10-15 years (or more).

  9. I know all about zoos and other places holding animals for whatever
    purpose and I can say that most of the staff at any zoo or other are
    ill-equipped to care simply because of their apathy, ignorance,lack
    of clairvoyancy, hypocrisy, stupidness, and no morals towards the
    animals, and animal abuse.