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."


  1. Thank God they have put the subcontractor clause into place - I think this will ease a lot of people's minds. From what I understand of the situation in Iowa, this is no place for apes of any species!

  2. Indeed. it is not fit for any ape species. As long as SSR is at the helm with her board of spineless followers the place is total crazy town. So pathetic!

  3. It's sad to think of the beautiful bonobos in a zoo. Sadder still to think of them in SSR's care. At least there is some regulatory oversight at a zoo.

    Could Patty Regan take them at Center for Great Apes?

  4. Asking a zoo or a conservancy to fire all of their abusive staff is like asking the leaders of China to get rid of their military force. Everybody from the leaders on down are making money from exploiting their people. This sickens me. I would never give money to this Iowa facility or to the Gorilla Foundation. Thankyou