Panbanisha, one of two rare bonobos whose understanding of spoken English brought a Des Moines, Iowa, scientist to international acclaim, has died, according to internal emails obtained by Patch.
One of seven bonobos living at the Des Moines sanctuary, “Panbanisha failed to overcome the cold that all the bonobos have been fighting,” Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, the director of the beleaguered ape facility wrote in the email to board members, colleagues and other interested parties at 2:37 a.m.
Savage-Rumbaugh had been placed on administrative leave in September after a group of former employees turned whistleblowers known as the “Bonobo 12” made jarring accusations about her mental competence to run the facility.
As one of the terms of the action, Savage-Rumbaugh was forbidden from being with the apes unless accompanied by the facility’s veterinarian, Dr. Julie Gilmore, a dog and cat veterinarian at the nearby Avondale Veterinary Clinic. It is not clear if Savage-Rumbaugh had been given clearance to return to the laboratory.
Savage-Rumbaugh said in one of the email threads that Gilmore “will provide official notice and describe all she has done and will be doing all to help the other bonobos through this stress.”
Kenneth Schweller, the board’s president, said in an email that a full medical report would be detailed. It was not immediately clear if a full necropsy would be ordered to determine the cause of death or what will happen with Panbanisha’s body.
The full text of the Savage-Rumbaugh’s email informing board members of Panbanisha’s death follows:
“Panbanisha failed to overcome the cold that all the Bonobos have been fighting. She was the most sensitive, the most creative, the most intelligent of all - she always sought the path of peace. Her Presence always filled the building. She understood all that was said and saw all that was done. Yet she could not speak as humans do - and therefore was misunderstood.
“I hope to rally the souls of the remaining bonobos so that they believe there really is a future worth living for. I hope to find a way to build a better world - a world in which those who have no voice and are unjustly persecuted - can begin to feel safe and honored, a world where the good no longer die young, a world where the Ann Franks of our time can come out of the cages and meet faces of friendliness and love.
“Panbanisha was never meant to live in a cage as she was always good and she understood responsibility and morality and had immense self control. Now she is free, free at last.”
Important Chapter in Ape Language Closed
With Panbanisha’s death, an important chapter in ape language research has closed. Though not as famous as her half-brother Kanzi, Panbanisha – whose name means “cleave together for the purposes of contrast” – was a superstar in her own right. She’s had jam sessions with musicians Peter Gabriel and Paul McCartney.
Most recently, the author Sara Gruen, whose Water for Elephants was a runaway bestseller, dedicated a later book, Ape House, “for great apes everywhere but especially Panbanisha.”
Gruen initially visited Great Ape Trust in 2007 as part of her research for the book and quickly formed a bond with the bonobo. When Ape House was nearing its 2010 release, Gruen had a tea party with Panbanisha and read parts of the manuscript to the ape.
The status of the former Great Ape Trust, which has gone through a series of name changes since transitioning from a scientific research institute to a sanctuary, also is not clear. Savage-Rumbaugh changed the name to Bonobo Hope and, later, reverted back to Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary, the name the facility went by when local businessman Ted Townsend supported the effort.
Townsend ended his financial support of the organization in 2011, and and the facility has since reportedly been on the brink of financiall failure.