Thursday, November 21, 2013

Has help arrived for Koko and Ndume?

This week’s news from The Gorilla Foundation – home of Koko and Ndume – is raising some cautious hope that the years of gorilla (non)care dictated by phone psychics may be nearing an end. TGF has quietly brought Ken Gold on board, to manage the “research” and gorilla care. They are still looking for an executive director, who would seem to have more power to implement needed changes, but I believe Gold’s hire is a promising development.
A gorilla expert is now at TGF to manage Koko's care.
Gold has a good resume, with stints at Apenheul Primate Park in the Netherlands, Singapore Zoo, and Night Safari. His strong suit is his academic work, which is impressive. His recent work as an inspector with the American Humane Association (the group that gives Hollywood cover when they use animal entertainers in movies) is troubling, but people who know Ken tell me he took the AHA job because he knew the needs of primates and would be better able to protect the monkeys and chimps than some of the other AHA inspectors on movie sets. With that mindset, he must be joining The Gorilla Foundation to make a difference, since it wouldn’t appear to be a wise career move if he is looking to advance in the primate research community, and it certainly isn’t something one would want to feature on a resume… unless he can make TGF respectable.

According to their bios, TGF’s Penny Patterson and Ron Cohn (president and vice president, respectively), are both around 66 years old, around the age when thoughts turn to retirement and rehabilitating reputations. Koko is 42 and Ndume is 32. While captive gorillas have been known to live to 55 years old, gorillas in the wild generally live from 30 to 40 years. Time is running out, and times have changed anyway. To leave a respectable legacy, Penny and Ron need professional help – and that could be Ken, who is one of the most qualified pros they’ve hired.

But will they listen and use his expertise? I hope Ken can institute better care for Koko and Ndume. I hope Penny and Ron are thinking rationally about the future and planning for a graceful end to TGF. And I hope they can set an example for their bonobo cousins in Iowa…

As I reported on November 3, the circus continues at Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate Research Sanctuary / Great Ape Trust / Insert Latest Name Here. I’ve noticed that Sue Savage-Rumbaugh has been absent from the public eye since late last spring, but the board is still flailing around, searching for a raison d'ĂȘtre. One could argue that their most important reason for existence is to provide proper care for their bonobos, but they have failed to bring in a great ape professional or even to consult with bonobo experts. Their carnivals are flops, their artist colony and robobonobo were fantasies, and no self-respecting university will touch them. They need to get a clue from a rehabilitated TGF.

We still don’t know if things will actually improve at the Gorilla Foundation. Gold has a good enough resume on paper to make Penny look good, and most everyone I talked with thinks he’s a good guy, but – I can’t stress this enough – there are some questions about whether he has enough hands-on experience to challenge what Penny is doing (or not doing). Can Ken Gold make a difference?

Fingers are crossed. 


  1. A ray of hope for the gorillas? I am cautiously optimistic. With Dr. Gold's film industry experience he will surely see through Penny and Ron's inadequate care, special affects, smoke, and mirrors. The question is, will he do anything to correct it? Time will tell.

  2. I'm pretty sure it was a typo, but `special affects' is actually a better description -- of the cutesy sentimentalism, the deliberate pulling of heartstrings that are the hallmarks of TGF's public relations.

    I hope the reality underneath all that gets better.


  3. As of today (August 16, 2015) Ken Gold is no longer listed on TGF's ever changing staff directory