Thursday, November 28, 2013

Chimp advocates gave us much to be thankful for this year

I'm thankful that the U.S. is closer to
the day when humans won't put chimps in
clothes to "entertain" us, as the Detroit Zoo
did. (1950 picture of  Joe Mendi II.)
2013 turned out to be a very good year for captive chimpanzees in the United States. Today is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., and I was thinking about all that I am thankful for…

…Congress passed, and the President signed, legislation that would lift the arbitrary cap on funding to pay for sanctuary care for the retired federal research chimpanzees. This would not have happened without the strong, united voice of a multitude of animal welfare organizations, led by the Humane Society. We all need to watch and support Chimp Haven as it builds new facilities and forms partnerships to provide lifelong and loving care for these chimps.

…Major chimpanzee exploiter Mike Casey – who allegedly used abusive techniques to train his chimpanzees for private parties and store openings, etc. --was finally forced out of business by a conglomeration of forces: a string of local government decisions to not grant him a permit to keep his chimps in residential neighborhoods; lack of business, as a result of a growing public awareness of the abuse chimpanzees are subject to when they are forced into a life of entertainment; and PETA’s constant vigilance and challenges to Casey’s every step.

…Sanctuaries continue to rescue chimpanzees. This year, chimps were saved from unacceptable care, a lonely life without sunshine in a human home, and an unsustainable research program.  The substandard Las Vegas Zoo closed after staff walked out, and solitary chimpanzee Terry was given a new life at Save the Chimps. After living her entire life in a 4x4 indoor cage, Katie was given a new life – with her sisters and brothers, who she never knew! – at the Center for Great Apes. And Canada’s Fauna Foundation was able to provide a new home for Tatu and Loulis after Central Washington University withdrew its financial support for the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute, forcing an end to one of the last ape language projects.

All this, and more, made for a terrific 2013. One more action could really cap off the year: a proper U.S. Fish and Wildlife decision on the endangered status of captive chimpanzees. So many more chimpanzees would be saved from research, entertainment, and “pet” breeding if FWS decides to revoke its double standard of “endangered,” which is granted to chimpanzees in the wild but not to chimps in U.S. captivity.

Animal welfare organizations, sanctuaries, and many zoos will continue to fight the good fight for captive U.S. chimps. I thank you all.

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. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The circus continues at Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary

If the latest announcements coming from Great Ape Trust / Bonobo Hope / Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary are any indication, they are attempting YET ANOTHER “turnaround.” An excellent article by Joe Gardyasz, of the Business Record, gives the details of a reorganization that many of us were wondering about.

Great Ape Trust has now been restructured into two boards: “an international board that oversees its bonobo research programs through an organization called Bonobo Hope, as well as a new local IPLS board of directors to oversee the Des Moines facility.” Gardyasz doesn’t list the members of the Bonobo Hope board, and of course the Bonobo Hope/IPLS website doesn’t list them either -- although its banner does advertise $10 tickets to “Kanzi’s Carnival”! (Really, they are promoting themselves as a circus. And they wonder why no one takes them seriously...)

The article does list five members of the IPLS board but, unfortunately, none of the directors charged with overseeing a great ape facility have a professional background in great ape care.

Nor have the board or the new director evidently availed themselves of any expert opinions on what it will take to actually make this a sanctuary. Or a research facility. Or a roadside zoo. Or an artists' colony. Or a new home for retired research chimps. Or whatever the hell they are thinking they want to be THIS TIME. See, that’s the problem. As they have for the past several years, they are tossing ideas out there, without any vision, to see what sticks, to see if anything attracts $$$.

Their new director, Steve Boers, tells Gardyasz that they are existing paycheck-to-paycheck “like most nonprofits.” Actually, no, Mr. Boers. Most non-profit primate sanctuaries are not that unstable. They have thousands of supporters, five-year plans, ten-year plans, legacy plans, consistent fundraising, and experienced people on their boards of directors. Sure, they all need more money, but they live up to the fiduciary responsibilities required of accredited sanctuaries. Unlike this organization.

So, how is GATI planning to pull itself out of their financial ruin? Granted, their ideas are many steps above their earlier ridiculous initiative to develop a robo-bonobo, but they are scary nonetheless.

Scariest of all is their “plan” to bring chimpanzees into their failed program. Reportedly, their new board president is a former Obama campaign worker, and he “is working with [U.S. Senator] Tom Harkin’s office on legislation that would enable the sanctuary to house about 20 of the more than 300 government research chimpanzees that are being retired,” according to the article. This is not a new idea. Last spring they attempted to get 500 signatures on a petition asking former sugar daddy Ted Townsend to “support the efforts of IPLS to become a Federal Sanctuary for chimpanzees who have served as subjects in biomedical research.” (As of today, the petition has 370 signatures.) Last spring, when I asked the National Institutes of Health about the frightening possibility of sending retired chimps to IPLS, NIH press officer Renate Myles assured me “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).” Fat chance of that happening, since they aren’t even an accredited sanctuary; thus, their attempt with Senator Harkin to lower the federal standards so they can get chimpanzees and, not incidentally, the federal dollars that would come with the chimps.

Other ideas that the facility shared with the reporter:
  • Partner with either Iowa State University or the University of Iowa to own the sanctuary.
  • Meet with Iowa conservation officials to “offer the facilities to the state to own,” Gardyasz writes. I’m not sure if this means selling it to Iowa, or donating it.
  • Look for corporate donors who “could understand and take the science to the next level like it needs to be,” Boers says. (At the same time, according to past board president Ken Schweller, who is now on Bonobo Hope's “international scientific board,” the board has put a moratorium on active research. Indeed, they no longer have the certification they need to receive federal funding for research, and one wonders what kind of science corporations would sponsor.)
  • Partner with the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau, to be a tourist destination.
  • Coordinate with the Science Center of Iowa’s current National Geographic world explorers exhibit to evidently showcase their non-existent “science.”
  • Host corporate events at the facility.
So sad. So many ideas and no vision.

Perhaps the most important part of the article is a Q&A that the Business Record posed to Gay Emerson Reinartz, who leads the AZA Species Survival Plan for bonobos. Please read the article to get the full extent of Gay’s comments. Her response to the question about options for placing the bonobos in a zoo stands out:
“If the center has insufficient long-term financing, what are the alternatives? Should the facility have to close, the Species Survival Plan would attempt to work with IPLS, their staff and others to find a solution that would be in the best, long-term interest of the bonobos. However, this involves a much deeper analyses of space and group dynamics. Without knowing the personalities and social needs of the bonobos in Iowa, it will require time to assess the best placement of individuals/groups. To answer these questions requires open dialogue, analysis, and collaboration. 

Unfortunately for the bonobos involved, GATI/Bonobo Hope/IPLS continues to show a disappointing preference for operating as a circus. One can only (and eternally) hope that someday they will decide that the preferred options are those they have so far scorned: the dialogue, analysis, and collaboration that Gay suggests.