The Gorilla Foundation reluctantly returns Ndume to the Cincinnati Zoo. King still sits alone at Monkey Jungle.
CINCINNATI, Ohio––Sprung from solitary confinement after 28 years at the Gorilla Foundation in Woodside, California, Ndume the gorilla, age 38, is back among old friends and family at the Cincinnati Zoo, reportedly settling in well.
King the gorilla, however, age 50, remains in solitary confinement at Monkey Jungle in Miami, Florida, where he has now done time for 40 years, having committed no offense other than being a gorilla, with no parole date in sight and little hope of ever being among other gorillas, anywhere.
Ndume flies back to Cinci
A long anticipated possible happy ending to the Ndume saga began on June 13, 2019 when he crawled into a crate he had been trained to enter voluntarily during his last weeks at the Gorilla Foundation, was trucked 15 miles to the San Francisco International Airport, was loaded aboard a Boeing 737-300 freighter, and was flown by the DHL package delivery company from San Francisco to Cincinnati, with one of his keepers from the Gorilla Foundation and Cincinnati Zoo head gorilla keeper Ron Evans aboard.
“The zoo has worked with DHL on at least 11 other ape transfers and transfers of other large species,” reported WCPO-9 of Cincinnati.
The Gorilla Foundation keeper is to remain in Cincinnati for up to two months while Ndume becomes acclimated to his new habitat.
“Ndume will be quarantined from the zoo’s other gorillas for between a month and 45 days to allow him to get comfortable with the setting, staff, and routines. An outdoor space away from visitors will be available for him,” summarized a report by WCPO-9 staff.
“Once Ndume is out of quarantine, he will be introduced to the rest of the gorilla bedroom areas and outdoor habitat. He will be eased into socializing with two 24-year-old female gorillas who are on birth control. Ndume won’t be exposed to other silverbacks or their families ‘until he has made significant progress with his integration,’” according to the transfer protocol to which both the Gorilla Foundation and the Cincinnati Zoo eventually agreed.
“Going forward, caregivers from The Gorilla Foundation will be able to visit Ndume twice a year,” WCPO-9 added. “If the zoo eventually decides to euthanize Ndume at the end of his life, the zoo will notify the foundation in advance so their caregivers can be present, if possible.”
The Cincinnati Zoo is hoping to reprise the success that Zoo Atlanta accomplished decades ago with Willie B., another middleaged silverback gorilla who had long been housed alone, and partially accomplished with yet another middleaged silverback, Ivan.
Willie B., “named for former Atlanta mayor William B. Hartsfield, was captured in the Congo in the 1960s at age two,” recalled Associated Press writer Dorie Turner in 2008. “Send to the Atlanta Zoo, Willie B. “lived in a cage of concrete and steel bars. His only companion was his zookeeper, Charles Horton.”
His only amusements were “a tire swing and a TV set.”
After Willie B. became an animal rights cause celebré in 1984, then-Atlanta mayor Andrew Young appointed animal behaviorist Terry Maple, then 38, to turn the zoo around, and pushed a $20 million bond issue to passage to fund the work. Maple rebuilt the zoo, renamed Zoo Atlanta, around a wooded natural habitat for Willie B., the star attraction.
“Willie went outside for the first time since his capture in May 1988,” continued Turner. “Soon, the zoo began allowing Willie B. to socialize with females.”
Willie B. eventually fathered five offspring.
“When the 439-pound patriarch of Zoo Atlanta’s gorilla clan died in 2000 after complications from pneumonia, more than 8,000 mourners packed Zoo Atlanta for a tearful memorial,” Turner remembered.
Ivan, born in 1962, was captured as a baby in 1964 in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Ivan lived for several years with the family of B&I Circus Store pet shop manager Ruben Seibert Johnston in Tacoma, Washington, then spent 27 years caged at the B&I Circus Store itself. Only in 1994, more than a year after the store went bankrupt, was Ivan released to the custody of the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.
The Woodland Park Zoo transferred Ivan to Zoo Atlanta in October 1994. Although Ivan accepted the friendship of a female named Kinyani, he never mated. He died at age 50 during a medical examination in August 2012.
The Cincinnati Zoo sent Ndume to the Gorilla Foundation on loan in 1991. Then a difficult 10-year-old, Ndume had become a feces-flinger, unsuitable for exhibit, during a two-year stint at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, and had not returned to normal behavior after being returned to Cincinnati.
The Gorilla Foundation welcomed Ndume as a potential mate for the signing gorilla Koko, 1971-2018.
Her original intended mate had been Michael, acquired along with his infant sister in 1976 after having been imported from Cameroon. The sister, named B.B. after French actress and animal advocate Brigitte Bardot, died from pneumonia within a month of arrival.
Michael, whom Koko accepted as a friend but rejected as a mate, lived on at the Gorilla Foundation until his death in 2000 at age 27.
Koko also rejected Ndume.
The Cincinnati Zoo lent Ndume to the Gorilla Foundation under a contract which stipulated that if Koko died before he did, Ndume would either be returned to Cincinnati or be transferred to another gorilla facility approved by the zoo.
The Cincinnati Zoo in early 2018 opened a new gorilla pavilion, housing 10 other gorillas, including Ndume’s aunt, Samantha, and four cousins, M’linzi, Muke, Mara, and Chewie.
There was room for another silverback. Harambe, a 17-year-old western gorilla, had in May 2016 grabbed a three-year-old boy who fell into the moat at the old Cincinnati Zoo gorilla exhibit, and violently swung the boy by one leg with his head only inches from the concrete moat wall. Harambe was shot dead so that the boy could be rescued.
The new Cincinnati Zoo gorilla exhibit had already been designed and funded at the time, but actual construction had not yet started.
Gorilla Foundation resisted transfer
Soon after Koko’s death, on June 19, 2018, the Cincinnati Zoo asked the Gorilla Foundation to return Ndume.
But Gorilla Foundation founder Francine “Penny” Patterson, 71, struggling since Koko’s death to maintain a mission, identity, and revenue stream for her organization, signed “No” in response, touching off a multi-round legal battle.
Asked to play Solomon between the claimants, Judge Richard Seeborg of the U.S. District Court of Northern California ruled on February 1, 2019 that Ndume was to be returned to Cincinnati.
When the Gorilla Foundation balked, Seeborg in May 2019 ordered the Gorilla Foundation “to cooperate in good faith and in all respects to effectuate the transfer of Ndume from California to Ohio on June 13, 2019,” as was done.
“LIfe in a sanctuary”?
“It has always been our opinion,” the Gorilla Foundation said in a media release, reluctantly accepting the verdict, “that transferring Ndume back to a zoo after life in a sanctuary for over 27 years — an unprecedented move that has never been done before — presents risks that may outweigh the perceived benefits.”
But Ndume had lived at the Gorilla Foundation in conditions more resembling those that Willie B. and Ivan endured than “life in a sanctuary” as most animal advocates would imagine it, alleged critics including former Gorilla Foundation caregiver John Safkow, who curates the “Ndume Deserves Better” Facebook page and web site, International Primate Protection League founder Shirley McGreal, and PETA Foundation vice president and deputy general counsel Delcianna Winders.
All rejoiced when Ndume was safely returned to the Cincinnati Zoo to spend however many more years he may have left.
Did King see Ndume on television?
King may have seen something about the transfer on the television set that sometimes occupies his attention.
Acquired in 1979 from a circus, King lived alone at Monkey Jungle for 20 years in a barred cement cell about the size of a small mobile home. Demonstrations led by the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida and critical comments by visitors including Jane Goodall and Doris Day eventually persuaded Monkey Jungle to build King a somewhat more comfortable and natural-appearing new home, which he has occupied since early 2001, visited by about 100,000 people per year.
Among the oldest animal-focused tourist attractions in Florida, Monkey Jungle originated when Connecticut commercial artist Joseph DuMond and his wife Grace Staton DuMond bought the original 10-acre site in 1932, released several monkeys into it, and began charging visitors 10¢ apiece for a tour.
Three generations have run tourist trap
Joseph and Grace Staton DuMond turned Monkey Jungle over to son Frank and retired to Cuba in 1956. Leaving Cuba after Fidel Castro came to power, Joseph and Grace Station DuMond ran a hunting goods store in Costa Rica for a time, but returned to Monkey Jungle in 1965.
Joseph DuMond died in 1967 and Frank DuMond died in 1977. His wife Mary headed the operation until her death in 1987, when Sharon DuMond, daughter of Frank and Mary, became the third generation of DuMonds to run Monkey Jungle, now expanded to 15 acres. Grace Staton DuMond assisted until her death at age 95 in 2003.
Hitting Monkey Jungle hard in September 2017, Hurricane Irma obliged the DuMond family to close the facility for eight months while making $400,000 worth of repairs and upgrades.
Former keeper protests conditions
While Monkey Jungle was closed, former keeper Melanie Lustig posted 28 photos illustrating critical commentary about the resident animals’ conditions to an Imgur social media page.
Described Miami New Times staff writer Brittany Shammas, “Below a photo of King with wounds on his stomach, the poster wrote that management ‘virtually ignores’ the injuries.
“Below a picture of a ratty blanket on a concrete floor, the text read, ‘We give King a single small throw blanket at night to nest/sleep with. Otherwise he is on concrete.’
“Another image showed King behind bars in what the description said is his ‘very small night house.’
“No evidence of Ellen”
“The Imgur user [Lustig] wrote that a presentation about King at Monkey Jungle talks about how he controls the TV set in the enclosure and how The Ellen DeGeneres Show is his favorite. In reality, the Imgur post said, the TV set plays two Disney movies on loop and ‘He does not seem to enjoy it much at all. There is no evidence of Ellen anywhere.’”
Lustig’s account was partially contradicted by Alan Gomez of USA Today, who reported just before Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida that “King was relaxed, sitting back and watching Snow White on a flatscreen TV. Park staff set up a button for him to press to swap between DVDs. His favorites are Moana, Tarzan and The Lion King.”
But “Lustig’s accusations were corroborated by more than half a dozen former employees, some of whom worked at the park years prior to the 2017 allegations,” reported Miami Herald writers Matias J. Ocner and Chabeli Herrera in July 2018.
Sharon Dumond responded to Ocner and Herrera, they wrote, “that King’s sores have emerged over years of him picking at the area out of anxiety and that the park has tried creams and sprays to alleviate the issue. “
Sharon Dumond and Monkey Jungle director Steve Jacques denied the other allegations.