Having lost Harambe, the Cincinnati Zoo wants him back.
Having lost Koko, the Gorilla Foundation signs “No.”
CINCINNATI, SAN FRANCISCO––Fighting to maintain a mission and identity since the June 2018 death of Koko the signing gorilla, Gorilla Foundation founder Francine “Penny” Patterson, 71, is now fighting in federal court as well to retain Ndume, 37, the last gorilla left in her possession.
The Cincinnati Zoo sent Ndume to the Gorilla Foundation in 1991, as a potential mate for Koko, under a contract which stipulated that he would either be returned or transferred to another gorilla facility approved by the zoo if Koko died before he did.
The Cincinnati Zoo at the time had much less room to house silverback gorillas than it has now, after completion of a new facility called Gorilla World and after Harambe, a 17-year-old western lowland silverback, was shot in May 2016 to facilitate rescuing a three-year-old boy who had fallen into the moat.
Harambe violently swung the boy by one leg moments before the shooting, the boy’s head only inches from the concrete moat wall.
The new gorilla exhibit had already been designed and funded at the time, but actual construction had not yet started.
(See also: The myth & mystery of Harambe the Cincinnati Zoo gorilla, Myth: that the gorilla Harambe “protected” fallen four-year-old; Conclusion: what the life & death of Harambe the gorilla means; And the lesson from Harambe’s death is? Well, it’s not to blame mom.)
“AZA path may kill Ndume”
The Gorilla Species Survival Plan, administered by the American Zoo Association, recommended that Ndume be returned to the Cincinnati Zoo, which now could accommodate another silverback, but Patterson balked.
Responded Patterson to the Cincinnati Zoo in September 2018, “Based on our 27-year history as caregivers and guardians for Ndume, we believe there is a significant probability that proceeding down the path proposed by the American Zoo Association may kill Ndume — either during transfer, or within weeks or months thereafter.
“Ndume is no longer young and strong,” Patterson continued. “Transporting him in the face of serious life and safety risks cannot be justified logically, humanely, legally or otherwise.”
Alleges Ndume threw a 14-hour tantrum
Patterson acknowledged that Ndume had been a notorious feces-flinger during his previous time at the Cincinnati Zoo, but attributed this to his having allegedly been “agitated” by zoo visitors––although he was kept off-exhibit much of the time.
Patterson said Ndume had enjoyed life in the relatively stress-free atmosphere of the Gorilla Foundation headquarters in Woodside, California, an affluent suburb just south of San Francisco, except for “ongoing suffering after the loss of Koko.”
Despite the purported low-stress environment, reported Angie Wang of Associated Press, “Patterson claimed Ndume screamed, banged and shoved objects for 14 consecutive hours after overhearing talk of a transfer––behavior the gorilla had never before exhibited at the foundation. She said gorillas’ ability to understand human speech is underestimated, and the foundation’s ‘decades of experience communicating with them confirms their ability to do so.’”
“Family support group”
Continued Wang, “Patterson acknowledged Ndume’s need for a social group, but emphasized he is not technically alone.”
Contended Patterson, “He is with a strong family support group of human great apes, from whom he takes great comfort.”
The American Zoo Association, meanwhile, “has refused or blocked every attempt we have made to create a natural gorilla family group for him,” Patterson alleged, not mentioning that Ndume had more than 25 years at the Gorilla Foundation to create a gorilla family group for himself.
“We are not an AZA institution, and we are fully aware of the steps taken to prevent the Gorilla Foundation from obtaining any new gorillas,” Patterson charged.
“We have 10 gorillas”
Countered Cincinnati Zoo primate curator Ron Evans, who has reportedly visited Ndume several times since moving him to the Gorilla Foundation, “To be near and/or with other gorillas is a foundational, natural-history-proven and unarguably basic need for all gorillas.”
Elaborated Cincinnati Zoo director Thayne Maynard, to Sarah Brookbank and Cameron Knight, of the Cincinnati Enquirer, “We have 10 gorillas, including relatives of Ndume, who can provide socialization opportunities, qualified vets, dedicated, highly experienced gorilla caregivers, and an excellent AZA-accredited facility that we recently renovated and expanded.”
Filing a lawsuit against the Gorilla Foundation on October 25, 2018, seeking to force the return of Ndume, Maynard said “We have no choice but to take legal action.”
PETA sides with Cincinnati Zoo
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals vice president of captive animal law enforcement Delcianna Winders endorsed the lawsuit in a statement to Brookbank and Knight, reportedly calling the Gorilla Foundation headquarters a “tumbledown facility,” with an alleged “history of failures in veterinary care and cleaning,” Brookbank and Knight wrote.
“The foundation will continue to honor Koko’s legacy and advance our mission,” the Gorilla Foundation pledged after Koko died on June 19, 2018, “with ongoing projects including conservation efforts in Africa, the great ape sanctuary on Maui, and a sign language application featuring Koko for the benefit of both gorillas and children.”
But the Gorilla Foundation mentioned Ndume only in passing, and said nothing specific about the other work of the foundation, whose fundraising capacity may now be steeply diminished.
Spent $1.8 million, but how?
The most recent Gorilla Foundation filing of IRS Form 990, for fiscal year 2017, claims total income of just under $1.8 million, including just under $1.3 million in program expense, but fails to stipulate in any specific manner how the money was used.
More than half of the Gorilla Foundation budget in 2016, $873,000 of $1.58 million, according to the previous IRS Form 990 filing, was invested in three conservation projects in Africa.
The work, however, was actually done by three other organizations that each maintain a boots-on-the-ground presence in gorilla habitat: the Biosynergy Institute, the United Africa Association, and Pan Africa Conservation Education.
“Great ape sanctuary” never existed
The “great ape sanctuary on Maui,” 25 years in purported development, still does not actually exist, and appears unlikely to ever exist, especially if the Gorilla Foundation has no gorillas to put there.
“The Gorilla Foundation has raised and invested roughly $2 million to develop a beautiful leased 70-acre site,” says the foundation web site. “We are now looking to expand that site to approximately 350 acres and secure it as a great ape sanctuary in perpetuity — by finding a major donor to purchase the land.”
Elaborated Marina Krakovsky for the Stanford Alumni magazine in 2011, “A 70-acre land grant from the Maui Land & Pineapple Company in 1993 was the promising first step,” but it also appears to have been very nearly the last step.
Intended mate never mated
Ndume, meanwhile, was always the gorilla of whom the Gorilla Foundation said the least, remaining upstaged even by Michael, who died in 2000 at age 27.
“Ndume joined the Gorilla Foundation/Koko.org in 1991, after spending his first 10 years at the Cincinnati Zoo,” says the foundation web site, omitting mention of his 1988-1991 stint at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, and without noting that Ndume, like Koko, was hand-raised by humans, but with very different results.
“Born in 1981 and already a father of three, 400-pound Ndume” was “Koko’s intended mate,” says the Gorilla Foundation web site, but mating behavior never occurred.
The Gorilla Foundation web site credits Ndume with “providing the opportunity for us to discover methods of dealing with aberrant behaviors.”
What “aberrant behaviors”?
Specifically, countered “Chimp Trainer’s Daughter” blogger Dawn (Brown) Forsythe in March 2013, beginning an ongoing social media campaign to have Ndume transferred back to the Cincinnati Zoo, “He mightily offended zoo patrons and officials at both Cincinnati Zoo and Brookfield Zoo. The zoos wanted to get rid of Ndume because he threw feces and regurgitated food,” to a notorious extent.
At the Gorilla Foundation, alleged Forsythe, citing several anonymous sources, Ndume “lives in a trailer. Since Ndume and Koko are never allowed in the same enclosure together, he is closed inside for meals while Koko is given access to the outdoor enclosure. Food is used as a tool to motivate him to come in,” when he is allowed out. “If he doesn’t come in, he is punished and doesn’t get to eat.”
By the sound of it, the next round of feces-flinging may be before a judge.