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 The article in this issue by Dawn Forsythe is an historical document and records a time when the treatment of animals in zoos and their presentation to the public was not humane and would not now be tolerated in any modern zoo.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.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

U.S. government tells Iowa Primate to stop public contact with bonobos

Well, at least the humans have to stop kissing the bonobos.

Iowa Primate posted this picture showing paying visitors
cuddling with the bonobos. The practice has to stop.
Readers will recall that the Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate [non]Learning [non]Sanctuary opened its doors to the public in February, allowing members of the public and a reporter to cuddle and kiss baby bonobo Teco. Iowa Primate, which is being managed by a licensed small animal veterinarian, evidently "forgot" about the dangers of disease transmission between great apes and humans. In fact, they were so proud of their practice of allowing close contact between humans and bonobos, they posted pictures to their Facebook page (but soon took them down.)

Primatologists and ape lovers everywhere were outraged. Barbara King, an anthropologist and a blogger on NPR (see her Thoughts on Three Famous Language Apes) filed a complaint with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (the regulatory agency), who followed up with Iowa Primate.  The report indicates that "[t]hese interactions pose a significant disease and injury hazard both to the public and the animal." APHIS told Iowa Primate that the close contact is "[t]o be corrected from this day forward." I've posted the APHIS inspection report here.

Since Sue Savage-Rumbaugh was present at the events and encouraged the practice, one wonders about other lapses in her "professional" knowledge and judgment. Just sayin'.