‘Gorilla Mountain’, the Make Believe Home of Koko and Ndume

Koko, image from Koko.org

Koko, image from Koko.org

“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 made 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 made a u-turn, parked the car, and cautiously approached the cat. I spoke softly, leaning in to offer him a hand to sniff. He launched into a chorus of thank you meows and I literally fell over as this soaked cat crawled up into my arms and onto my lap. He knew help had arrived.

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.


Ndume, image from Koko.org

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.

Primate Torture

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.’

Facebook Page “Ndume the Gorilla Deserves Better”

Click here for follow up blog “Koko and Ndume, Gorillas That I Miss”

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.

25 thoughts on “‘Gorilla Mountain’, the Make Believe Home of Koko and Ndume

  1. thank you John for your bravery in exposing Gorilla Mtn. I was taken in by the spin for 20 years. Like you, I resigned but really miss Koko. Never spent much time with Ndume but I also loved Michael dearly.

    • Hi Joanne, I remember your name when I was there in 2004 (and know it from primatology in general)…It sounded like you had done some research there? What made you change your mind about the place?

  2. I appreciate your decision to write about your experiences at the Gorilla Foundation. It’s hard to hear and process, as I’ve loved Koko’s story since I was a kid. I wish it wasn’t true. It’s so sad to see animals used like this.

  3. I worked there in 2004 even though i was warned before i started…i was hired to head up research but was prevented from doing so. in the end, they had me washing dishes..one thing i did start was an enrichment project for ndume and i heard later that someone was hired just to work on enrichment so i would like to think i helped make that happen. i worked with the people who brought about nipple-gate but refused to be part of the suit just because i thought it would hurt koko. i was contacted a couple of years ago by a primate advocate friend in order to speak with someone on the board…the phone date was cancelled and i never learned what it was all about, other than ndume. after reading this, i now know your efforts are what prompted the almost-call. thanks for writing this. i never knew what to do with my info…always wanted to write to the celebs and tell them to stop contributing!

  4. Thank you for this, John. It is people like you, who care enough to speak publicly, who will force the changes necessary for the welfare of captive great apes. I’m afraid it’s too late for Koko, but I still hold some hope that Cincinnati Zoo will bring Ndume out of his current hell hole.

  5. So enlightening. Applaud u for sharing. Thank you. Word is creeping out about the convoluted goal of this “organization.” How to convince the brainwashed that none of this is what’s best for Koko, Ndume or any gorillas? On a lighter note, thanks for sharing ur nipples, am sure Koko misses you, ur awesome 😉

  6. Thank you for your comments. I appreciate the encouragement.

    • Get her out of there!!! No matter what! Nudge too! What the hell is wrong with the Cincinnati zoo? There has to be other places more conducive to the happiness of them. Koko has provided so much to us “humans”. This is an outrage. Betty white met her, see what she can do! I am almost in tears. I too have loved Koko since I was a child. This cannot happen to her!!!

      • I agree, Bonnie. Surely, there are people and/or organizations who will investigate these concerns.

  7. This is so incredibly sad to read. My perception of Koko’s life was one of tranquility. Thanks for caring enough to share the truth..

  8. The problem here is that by stating keywords such as “immoral practices, questionable care, and unethical treatments” without detailing your reasoning for these claims, you are leaving judgment to the reader’s imagination. For example, while one person may imagine immoral practices and unethical treatment in this case to mean a lack of general expected everyday care; another may imagine sinister beatings and acts of bestiality. Your blog then becomes defamatory.

    I personally have never donated to TGF because I do not believe that they have contributed enough to support their mission statement over the years. I donate to charities that care for animals that are unavoidably in captivity with the aim of rehabilitation into a natural environment where possible. I do not donate to support someone’s lavish lifestyle. It amazes me that this organisation still receives millions in donations each year.

    The Koko project should never have exceeded five years. The fact is, surprisingly that it has. It is too late for Koko now. So while I admire you for speaking out on what you feel is “a scam”, I wonder what you hope to achieve by doing so.

    Curiously, did you and other staff voice your concerns to management while working at the Foundation before contacting the Board?

  9. More on Primate Products, Inc:

    Below from S.A.E.N. (Stop Animal Exploitation Now)

    Monday, March 31, 2014
    Contact: Michael Budkie, SAEN 513-575-5517, 513-703-9865 (cell) saen@saenonline.org

    Primate Products Negligence Leads to Monkey Strangulation;
    National Watchdog Group Files Complaint, Calls for $10,000 Federal Fine

    MIAMI, FL – Sensitive federal records have revealed a preventable monkey death at Primate Products – a Miami area monkey dealer – according to a national research watchdog organization, which made the fatality public today.

    A heavy fine – $10,000 – should be leveled at the Primate Products laboratory, said SAEN (Stop Animal Exploitation NOW), a national research watchdog organization, which uncovered the death & negligence. SAEN has filed a federal complaint with the USDA, which oversees research laboratories.

    SAEN said the records reveal that a monkey strangled to death after becoming entangled in an enrichment device.

    “Primate Products has clearly demonstrated incompetence that has killed a monkey,” said Michael A. Budkie, A.H.T., Executive Director, SAEN. “This bungling laboratory deserves the maximum penalty allowable under the law.”

    The NIH report and SAEN’s Official Complaint are available upon request from SAEN.

    Tuesday, November 15, 2011
    Contact: Michael Budkie, SAEN http://www.saenonline.org, saen@saenonline.org, (513) 575-5517

    Attn: Assignment Desk

    Whistleblower Reveals Epidemic at Primate Products: 50 Primates Dead, 500 sick; Watchdog Group calls for Federal Investigation and Fine

    MIAMI, FL – A whistleblower within the Miami are lab, Primate Products, has revealed a major epidemic among the monkeys.

    Information recently obtained from a whistleblower connected to Primate Products has stated that hundreds of animals have been sick and dozens have died.

    The source said: “The monkeys were getting sick and dying from some serious enteritis…diarrhea, bloody, etc. More than 500 were being treated daily. Most were Harlan animals.” It was later disclosed that over 50 animals died. At first report the epidemic had included 300 animals, but spread to include over 500 animals in just a few weeks.

    It is also reported that the majority of the animals were actually owned by Harlan Laboratories. However, it is possible that sick animals may have been shipped to other Primate Products customers, such as Wil Research Laboratories of Ohio.

    Research Watchdog Group SAEN (Stop Animal Exploitation NOW) has contacted the USDA to demand an investigation and he largest fine allowable under the law.

    “Allowing an epidemic to kill dozens of animals and make hundreds of animals sick is a truly criminal act and must be punished,” said Michael A. Budkie, A.H.T., Executive Director, SAEN.

    More on Primate Products Inc: http://www.all-creatures.org/saen/fl/res-fr-fl-ppi.html

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  11. I wished the whole Koko project would not last longer than a couple of years. The Maui and the baby project will sadly not happen for Koko. I don’t understand why Penny Patterson keeps saying they are looking for a baby for Koko and that they want to send her to Maui. It is too late for that.

  12. I know this is old, but I’ve been interested in the farce Gorilla Foundation for years. With all the articles and comments all over the web it’s hard for me to believe Dawn F. could only hang in there with her Change org. petition for 3000 signatures. She states it was pointless. Too hard to keep a petition going? Can someone start a petition for Ndume? I’ll see what it entails. I did write Cincinnati zoo twice. No response. Dawn. No response. I’ll go to Facebook and Twitter. What has been done to Ndume is immoral and inhumane. He is ignored and is growing old in a little enclosure. Humans did it. Humans should help him. There is a ridiculous “update” in 2014 about Ndume, again by Dawn. I’m sure it’s because of all the comments on the web. I, for, one,
    .may be a nobody, but someone HAS to care enough to bring about awareness of this cruelty. I did write to the Milwaukee zoo, also, as they just unveiled a new beautiful, big gorilla enclosure. No response. Beware of animal foundations and zoos.

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  14. Has anything happened since 2014 in terms of investigation? If not, why? If so, what has happened?

    • Not that I’m aware of. They’re accountable to no one, report to no one, and completely untouchable it seems.

      • So, none of the people who worked there has ever reported them to animal rights organizations or authorities? Why? Saying they are untouchable is not realistic. I am confused about why those who accuse them of abuse have just let it go by the wayside.

  15. Annette, I personally have contacted numerous agencies and facilities. I think I’ve blogged about it or posted it on Chimp Trainers Daughter. Check out the Facebook page also. You might find it there, https://www.facebook.com/Koko44yearoldvirgin/

    I’ve even interviewed with PETA. The thing is no one knows what to do with Koko. She’s half gorilla, half human. She’d not do well with other gorillas and a move would traumatize her. Ndume belongs to Cincinnati Zoo. I’ve spoken to them and they would rather pretend that everything is just fine and choose to leave him where he’s at.

    Koko is too old and a move would probably kill her.

    There are no simple solutions. Believe me, it’s all been discussed.

  16. I know that this is quite old, but it’s the first time I’m reading about any of this. I’ve been taking in your blog posts about your time working with Koko and Ndume, along with the ones linked to Chimp Trainer’s Daughter’s website, and it really breaks my heart. It’s hard to believe some of the things that have been written, as it’s just so… sad. I think what bothers me the most about all of this is the treatment of Ndume. From your accounts (and others), it’s said that he was not allowed to socialize/be together in any real capacity with Koko, but as you probably know, that’s not what can be found on the koko . org site (space included in case of spam filter). They claim that they were allowed to roam the outdoor enclosure(s) together, and there was something about some linked up ’roundabout’ as well (this was a post from them from 2003).

    I’m not doubting you at all. I guess I just wanted to have some sort of clarification about that particular issue, as it is seriously weighing on my mind and heart. To think about Ndume being isolated from the only other gorilla in the compound is just straight up depressing, especially when combined with the stories of his ‘neglected’ status (being treated as like the unwanted step-child, for lack of a better analogy) in comparison to Koko (who my heart also hurts for).

    It was said in their blog posts that he received daily playing and care from caregivers, at least, so that’s always something I suppose (if true)… I’m just so disappointed to hear that not all was as it seemed.

    If you don’t mind and you have the time, could you please expand a bit on Ndume’s treatment? My heart desperately wants to hear that the two gorillas at least got a *little* bit of time together, that he was treated alright, something good, anything really…but I need to hear the actual truth, in order to consolidate my thoughts on this issue once and for all.

    I really appreciate you taking the time to write about your experiences, despite the risk of consequences or backlash, and thank you for reading this comment. Hope you’re doing well 🙂

    • Hi Jessi,
      Thank you for your note and inquiry. In the beginning I do believe the gorillas were allowed very limited time together in the same enclosure. I’m not aware of any videos published showing them together, other than their introduction. There are very few images of the two gorillas together and I have reason to believe the photos showing them as adults in the same enclosure may be photo-shopped. You’ll notice they are not engaging or even acknowledging each others presence. There are two realities where TGF is concerned. There’s their reality (Penny’s World) and real time reality. They put out what they want you to believe, and of course they want you to believe Koko and Ndume were together trying to raise a family. I think it was early 2000’s when they were more permanently separated as is described in the blog and other publications. You’re welcomed to join us on or Facebook Page “Ndume the Gorilla Deserves Better”. Feel free to ask questions there or you can message me. https://www.facebook.com/TeamNdume/

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