“Gorilla Mountain” is what Gorilla Foundation staffers call the tiny spot on the map where Koko and Ndume reside near Redwood City, CA. Some outsiders will refer to it as a sanctuary. Gorilla Mountain is anything but a sanctuary. Basically, the gorilla compound consists of three dated trailers attached to a depressing outdoor enclosure where the two gorillas can never hang out at the same time. Yes, you’re reading that correctly; for years Koko and Ndume have been denied togetherness. Rare and limited opportunities for socialization takes place through bars and solid steel gates.
How I Ended Up on Gorilla Mountain
I started part-time mid March, 2010 and admittedly didn’t do a great deal of research prior. Why did I care? It was Koko! What could she possibly have in her closet?
I had no idea about the ‘Nipple-Gate’ case years earlier when Penny and Koko were sued for sexual harassment. Penny settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. The case is well documented Koko’s Sexual Harassment, “Nipple-Gate“ but somehow I missed it. Yes, Koko does like to see your nipples. I showed her mine several times a day whenever she asked, as was strongly ‘encouraged.’ Funny thing, when Koko asks to see the nipples of a visitor (big donor or celebrity), the ‘spin machine’ kicks in and suddenly Koko’s nipple request is interpreted as ‘people’. It goes something like this,”oh, nipple sounds like people, Koko is saying she wants to see more people.” Yeah, right. Anyway, showing my nipples to a gorilla was funny and I never had an issue with it. I felt sorry for her and if my nips make her happy, so be it.
I was a flight attendant for United Airlines before ever setting foot on Gorilla Mountain and completely burned out from the post 09/11 air travel downward spiral, added security procedures, bankruptcy, restructuring, pay cuts, work rule changes, and the energy-sucking negative work environment. For me, being a flight attendant was no longer enjoyable and I was dragging myself to work every trip. I no longer loved my job. I wanted to feel passionate again in my work life and thought maybe the right part-time job would help balance things out. But what part-time job? I hadn’t a clue.
One rainy day in February 2010, I happened upon a rain soaked orange cat curled up by the side of the road. Driving by I immediately thought the cat must be injured or possibly blind. Why else would it not be seeking shelter from the rain?
I turned the car around, parked, and cautiously approached the cat. To say the cat was happy to see me is an understatement. I spoke softly, leaning in to offer him my hand to sniff. He launched into a chorus of thank you meows and I literally fell over as this soaked cat launched himself into my arms and onto my lap.
Lucky for me he had a collar with phone number. I called and the owner explained excitedly, “his name is Buttercup and he’s blind.” I told him I will stay at that location until he can arrive to pick up Buttercup.
With Buttercup safe I returned home feeling great about what just happened. The experience was something special. I felt passionate about rescuing this helpless animal. That’s it! Voila! I want a part time gig working with animals.
Later that evening I opened Craigs List and scanned jobs for “part-time animal care.” Early into the search I saw and ad for “Part Time Gorilla Care Needed.” I couldn’t believe my eyes, this had to be a joke or a scam. Turned out the ad was placed by The Gorilla Foundation, home of Koko the famous sign language gorilla. It suddenly hit me, Koko has a thing for cats and I had an amazing cat rescue experience earlier in the day. This is all meant to be.
I wrote a letter to Koko telling her of my Buttercup kitty rescue. A few weeks later I was contacted for a phone interview, then a one on one, and eventually offered the the part-time position of “Gorilla Night Monitor.”
Several months passed and I began to suspect that Gorilla Mountain was not as it first seemed, or what the general public is told. What I thought was a good cause was nothing more than Penny Patterson’s Gorilla Foundation ‘spin machine,’ and I was now sucked in. This was difficult to accept because I had since resigned (with over 15 years) from United Airlines to work full time as Gorilla Caregiver for the Gorilla Faux-dation.
The Nightmare Begins
Taking care of Koko and her non-companion Ndume was both magical and a living hell. Working with the gorillas was awesome; the hell came in the form of Koko’s controllers Dr. Francine ‘Penny’ Patterson and Ron Cohn. I miss my hairy home-girl Koko and gassy gorilla buddy Ndume, and think of them every single day. The wonderful gorilla memories are often overshadowed with sad and troubling nightmares of Penny Patterson and my experiences behind the Gorilla Foundation smoke and mirrors.
All Gorilla Foundation applicants are required to sign a “Non-Disclosure Agreement” as a condition of employment. I acknowledge that I signed the agreement and realize there are risks involved with sharing these experiences publicly. With that said, let the gorilla turds fly! I can no longer remain silent.
Months prior to my departure, the staff provided a report to the Koko.org Board of Directors regarding what we felt were immoral practices, questionable care, and unethical treatments we were required to perform. During the four-month investigation Board members interviewed Penny, Ron, and staffers individually. It was a difficult time for all, but we felt strongly something needed to change. At the end of the investigation, a meeting was announced for the Board to discus their findings with staff and the plan going forward. We would find out later at the meeting that there was really nothing to discuss, and that the Board had contracted an outside “Advisor” to assist Penny, Ron, and staff.
Staff were cautiously optimistic that help would soon arrive in the form of an “advisor.” We speculated that perhaps a veterinarian will soon join us, or an experienced gorilla expert. Our dreams were shattered when we were introduced to the “advisor.” It turned out our advisor was, in fact, a lawyer.
We were disappointed, hurt, and feeling hopeless. One by one, nine of the eleven full- and part-time staff walked off the job in a period of a few months. We were devastated and crushed. Not only were the gorillas NOT going to receive the help and improved care we had hoped for, but current staff could no longer care for them under the direction of Penny and Ron. Morally and ethically, the only choice was to leave.
Penny and Ron are really good at what they do best, and I do not mean gorilla care and research. The plan Penny and Ron cooked up has worked beautifully for them for over 40 years. What they’re actually good at is collecting millions and millions of dollars over the years from sincere, passionate, caring donors. Yes, the Foundation has worked well for Penny and Ron, but not for Koko and her pretend gorilla companions, the late Michael and current non-companion Ndume. Sadly, I can’t even call Koko and Ndume roommates since they are kept separate 24-7 and this has been the case for years.
The Foundation spin machine wants you to believe that Koko and Ndume enjoy living together as a gorilla family. In fact, this could not be further from the truth; Penny would never allow it to happen.
Chimp Trainer’s Daughter
My co-worker told me about a blog called Chimp Trainer’s Daughter. Dawn and her blog provided some relief for staffers who could comment anonymously on Gorilla Foundation related articles. Dawn’s accurate writing and comments opened a window of truths allowing readers a peek inside the surreal, extremely private world of Koko, Ndume, Penny, Ron, and the Gorilla Foundation. I encourage you to visit Chimp Trainer’s Daughter . Check the additional blog entries and comments regarding Ndume’s neglect.
The Nightmare Continues
There is so much to this story that I cannot begin to cover it here. Know that there have been many sleepless nights for me, and I’m sure for other caregivers throughout the years, as the turnover rate for staff is astounding (which is most unfortunate for the gorillas since relationships and bonds are severed and lost forever).
The experience was/is a total mind-fuck. I loved the gorillas and naturally wanted to provide them with the best care possible. As I was building their trust and growing closer to them I began to realize that everything about the Gorilla Foundation was a lie. I also realized that providing realistic proper care for Koko and Ndume was nearly impossible under Patterson’s watchful eye, the obsessing, micromanaging, non-traditional medical care, and without an on-staff vet or medical assistant. Early on I too believed the baby and Maui stories, but over time began doubting everything about the Foundation. Around this time I checked in with my co-workers and they reluctantly admitted to feeling the same. Articles and announcements were appearing on Koko.org that we knew nothing about, or we knew were completely fabricated. At the same time the gorillas depended on us for everything. Since the gorillas are not allowed to be together, they depend on staff for basic socialization in addition to their care.
It has been reported the Gorilla Foundation has a relationship with Paul Houghton, CEO and founder of Primate Products, Inc. Unless you’re an advocate for animal rights or against importing and restraining laboratory primates for research, you may not have ever heard of Paul Houghton.
The ‘Macaque Restrainer’ $4,850.00 (image from Primate Products Inc online catalog)
The above is what happens to primates at Primate Products (see Peta story here)
Now you may wonder what the relationship is between Penny Patterson and Paul Houghton? I have no idea, but what I can tell you is this: Penny has used Paul Houghton’s estate for off-site staff meetings on more than one occasion. We didn’t know of Mr. Houghton or Primate Products Inc at the time, and some staffers may be learning this for the first time here. Former staffers can follow the links on SmashHLS to the very address and estate of Mr. Houghton’s. They will see the property where they attended staff meetings arranged by Penny Patterson herself. Both Penny and Ron attended these meetings with staff and the lawyer “advisor.” When the offsite meetings began, I was very close to resigning and refused to attend any meeting off the property. I was unaware of the Primate Product connection until much later after reading the SmashHLS article. Mr. Houghton’s address is linked in this article posted on Florida based SmashHLS . SmashHLS is very active at exposing companies in the business of importing primates for torture and lab research, from which Houghton has made millions. As a Gorilla Caregiver I cannot imagine sitting in a meeting at a home built with Primate Products money. I also cannot imagine how Dr. Francine Patterson could have anything to do with this guy.
Local news report on photos leaked from Florida based Primate Products Inc:
All one has to do is google “Primate Products Inc”. Primate Products Inc is a huge supplier for primates used for lab research and testing. Primate Products Inc is the primate version of a puppy mill and they ship anywhere (also a big money maker).
You Cannot Make this Stuff Up
The truth is a sad reality for Koko and Ndume. Patterson has humanized Koko to the point of no return and beyond any form of rehabilitation. Koko never had a chance for a family. In my opinion there’s no way Penny could or would have allowed this to happen. If Koko had a family or was able to mix it up with other gorillas, she would naturally become less dependent on Penny for her every waking moment. Koko was and is Patterson’s life-project. If it sounds selfish, it is. Koko was never given the chance to be a gorilla, with other gorillas.
Is there hope for Ndume? Not likely as long as Penny and Ron are in control. Ndume has always been on loan from the Cincinnati Zoo. Will they step in? They haven’t so far.
Ndume deserves better. He never asked to be Koko’s pretend companion, or to play a silent part in Patterson’s make believe money-making spin machine. Ndume never asked to be placed in gorilla solitary confinement on ‘Gorilla Mountain.’
Disclaimer: These are my experiences and opinions only. NO animals were harmed writing this blog. The harm has already happened and will continue for as long as Penny and Ron are running the shit show that is The Gorilla Foundation. Also, I am not a “bitter former employee” as some Patterson believers dismiss any claims made by former Gorilla Foundation staffers. On the contrary, I am grateful for the magical experiences with Koko and Ndume and care deeply for their well-being. I left because I could no longer participate in what I felt were immoral and unethical care practices imposed on staff under the direction of Patterson. Simply put, I care too much.