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Great Ape Trust

Suspicion of mistreatment


Savage-Rumbaugh with the bonobo Kanzi: forced leave during the investigationGREATAPETRUST

A well-known primate sanctuary in the state of Iowa, the Great Ape Trust, is mired in a crisis.  According to the blog Science Insider in the journal Science, an internal investigation has been launched into accusations that its director, primatologist and psychologist  Susan Savage-Rumbaugh was mistreating the animals.  The sanctuary is home to primates like the bonobo chimpanzee Kanzi, who was taught to communicate by using a symbol keyboard and is able to understand over 3,000 spoken words.  The institution’s management committee placed Savage-Rumbaugh on leave, allowing her only supervised visits to the bonobos.  The  Great Ape Trust was established in 2002 thanks to a US$ 4 million donation from businessman Ted Townsend, as a research center for primate cognition and communications.  The money dried up in 2011 and the committee decided to suspend research activities, but a US$ 50,000 donation allowed work to continue.  Ten months ago, the management committee received the first reports of mistreatment, which it revealed.  In September, employees and former caretakers of the animals took the complaints public.  Savage-Rumbaugh defended herself in a video, telling her accusers, “you don’t know the real situation at the sanctuary,” and proposing that a camera be hung around her neck 24 hours a day, so that she could be monitored.  Ethics specialist Nancy Howell is leading the investigation.


Savage-Rumbaugh with the bonobo Kanzi: forced leave during the investigation