“Panbanisha was like a member of the family to the people who have worked with her,” says former Great Ape Trust employee, Susannah Maisel.
She and other former caregivers at the Trust are mourning Panbanisha, a 27-year-old bonobo who died last week.
Maisel worked at the Trust for seven years. She was let go in September, about the same time she and fellow caregivers went public with their concerns about the care and safety of the primates.
At the time, Director Susan Savage-Rumbaugh – world-renowned for her work with primates – dismissed the allegations calling them “crazy.”
“They’re made by former employees who haven’t been here,” said Savage-Rumbaugh. “Ten of them haven’t been here in a year, two years. They don’t know the situation.”
But emails dating back to November of last year show the then Scientific Director of the trust also had issues with the care of the bonobos. In one instance, Teco, a baby bonobo, pulled a cup of hot water onto his stomach, leaving burns. Teco also consumed old, rotten food, candle wax, adult vitamins, coffee and energy drinks, causing diarrhea. And in another instance, the bonobos had access to the outdoors overnight.
The Great Ape Trust’s Board of Directors is now trying to decide if Savage-Rumbaugh should be retained, whether operations should continue or if the bonobos should be relocated.
One of the determining factors is money. In an email to staff last December, the Chairman of the Board wrote, “It’s lights out in a month unless we raise a TON of money immediately. And the only way to raise a lot of money in a short time is SUE.”
Maisel says she simply wants what’s best for the bonobos, but even she can’t say what that is.
“That’s a really complicated question and I’m not sure I’m prepared to answer that tonight.”
Tonight, she says, is for mourning a member of the family.
“It’s like having a brother or a sister or a cousin pass away. She’s family. She really meant that much to us.”