The Gorilla Foundation Counters Zoo’s Demand to Transfer Koko’s Companion Ndume from Sanctuary to Zoo

WOODSIDE, Calif., Nov. 21, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- In response to the Federal District Court complaint filed by the Cincinnati Zoo, The Gorilla Foundation (TGF) has now filed its answer and a counterclaim.  The counterclaim, filed in the state of California, explains why the Zoo’s demands for transfer and return of Ndume are ill-conceived and contrary to his best interests.

Ndume was born and raised at the Cincinnati Zoo and transferred to another zoo at the age of 7. It became clear that he could not tolerate the conditions of public display required of a zoo gorilla, when he began throwing his regurgitated food and feces at the public. 

Only after Ndume was transferred to TGF did his stress behaviors subside. Now, after living for 27 years with Koko (who passed away in June of 2018), Dr. Penny Patterson, and other caregivers in a private sanctuary environment, the AZA and the Cincinnati Zoo, one of its member organizations, want to force Ndume, now a somewhat elderly gorilla (37), to endure the rigors of transport and once again face the stressful zoo conditions he could not tolerate as a young gorilla. These multiple stressors could turn deadly because he carries an incurable parasitic infection, common among gorillas in zoos, that becomes invasive under such conditions.

While decrying the isolation of Ndume after the death of Koko, the Zoo is well aware that the only reason TGF does not have more gorillas to keep him company is because the Zoo and the AZA have been systematically blocking all efforts by TGF to bring in more companion gorillas.  Plus, given their existing gorilla family groups and Ndume’s age, the only safe way for the Zoo to keep him is likely to be in isolation — near other gorillas, but separate from them.  The frustration associated with such solitary confinement would be intolerable for Ndume.  In contrast, TGF is working on a solution to bring another gorilla companion or two to live with Ndume, without sacrificing the comfort of his sanctuary and the human companions (caregivers) with whom he has developed strong social bonds during the past 27 years.  To make life optimal for Ndume, TGF has designed an expansion of their sanctuary that will give the gorillas many options for interacting with each other and their caregivers, with a video connection to the public rather than a stream of visitors.

The Gorilla Foundation was willing to cooperate with the Zoo to discuss how best to care for Ndume in his elder years.  But, when the Zoo refused to even address the subject, much less answer questions about how they could safely integrate Ndume into their existing gorilla population, it became clear that they are far less concerned about the care of Ndume and much more interested in removing him from TGF.

Why would that be? After 27 years of peaceful, healthy (and communicative) interaction with other gorillas and his caregivers, why wouldn’t it be in the best interests of Ndume to stay in his sanctuary home?

The answer is troubling and complex.  But, as explained in the court filing, it has become increasingly clear that the AZA and the Cincinnati Zoo are concerned about public awareness of the sentient and sensitive nature of high-level mammals, like gorillas, chimps, elephants, orcas and dolphins.  This public awareness led to the demise of Ringling Brothers, the removal of orcas and dolphins from public exhibition, laws preventing the use of bull hooks to control elephants, and the public outpouring of love and support for Koko, the first gorilla to demonstrate her ability to communicate her thoughts and feelings directly to humans, via sign language.

This AZA-driven effort to block TGF’s continuing research and care is motivated by fear, not concern for Ndume.  They hope to prevent further public education of the advanced capabilities of great apes, and to continue their insensitive treatment of sentient animals, like Ndume, as property (which is the focus of their lawsuit) that can be warehoused — as if such highly intelligent creatures have no thoughts, feelings, personalities or self-awareness.

Continued research like the remarkable language breakthroughs with Koko (and her former gorilla companion Michael), are critically important and should not be shut down by the zoo industry — indeed, it should be pursued collaboratively by all institutions who are responsible for captive great apes  For this reason, TGF has decided to stand and fight to protect Ndume,  further educate the public about  the true motivation behind the Zoo efforts to transfer him, and focus attention on the potential benefits of interspecies communication for improved care and conservation of great apes like Ndume.

About The Gorilla Foundation
The Gorilla Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation, protection and well-being of gorillas and other great apes through interspecies communication research and education. Established in 1976 as a 501(c)(3) corporation, it is best known for "Project Koko," the longest interspecies communication study in history, and the only one involving gorillas. It has evolved into an institution that provides a unique resource for great ape conservation, care and understanding. For more information, visit

Media Contacts:
Gary Stanley, PhD, Chief Operations Officer
The Gorilla Foundation

A photo accompanying this announcement is available at