Flamboyant animal advocacy group PETA threw its weight behind the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden Thursday in an ongoing dispute over custody of an ape.
The organization argued in a federal district court filing that Ndume, a male gorilla housed at the Gorilla Foundation in California, would be better off returning to his Cincinnati birthplace.
“Not only is (the Gorilla Foundation) in violation of its contractual obligation to release Ndume so that he can enjoy the company of other gorillas, but the conditions in which TGF maintains Ndume indisputably violate laws intended to protect him,” the organization wrote in a proposed amicus curiae brief.
The full brief accused the Gorilla Foundation of a wide variety of negligence in caring for its animals, including failing to provide adequate veterinary care and failing to meet Ndume’s need to socialize with other gorillas. (Former foundation staffers made similar complaints to National Geographic in 2012 and Slate in 2014.)
Ndume spent 27 years as a companion to the Gorilla Foundation’s crown jewel: Koko, a female western lowland gorilla whom researchers claimed had learned to communicate with humans through sign language.
Koko’s death in June 2018 left him alone, surrounded by human caretakers but no primate peers. The foundation and zoo initially agreed he should return to Cincinnati and a comfortable social setting with other gorillas as soon as possible.
However, the relationship quickly soured. In October, the zoo sued in federal court to get Ndume back.
According to documents filed then, Gorilla Foundation leaders had reneged on their decades-old promise to return Ndume home and instead intended to bring a female companion to him in California.
Those leaders have maintained in court filings that moving the 37-year-old ape to Cincinnati would “harm Ndume physically, emotionally and could very easily be the direct cause of his premature death.”
"Although we respect those concerns and everybody shares those welfare concerns, they're not valid,” Cincinnati Zoo curator of primates Ron Evans said of those claims.
A judge recommended the zoo and the foundation reach an agreement through out-of-court mediation in mid-December.