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Famed 'talking' ape dies at Iowa sanctuary, others sick

5:34 AM, Nov 8, 2012   |    comments
Panbanisha, seen here on a May 2011 outing with Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope scientist and director Sue Savage-Rumbaug, died Tuesday of a cold at the Des Moines sanctuary. The 26-year-old bonobo was renowned for communicating with humans. (Photo: The Des Moines Register)
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Michael Winter, USA TODAY
A bonobo renowned for communicating with humans has died at a struggling Iowa sanctuary, and some of the remaining six great apes are also sick, The Des Moines Register reports.

Panbanisha, 26, died of a cold Tuesday night at the Great Ape Trust Bonobo Hope in Des Moines, which is under scrutiny for its care of the animals, the paper says, citing staff e-mails. Panbanisha is the fourth ape to die since the research center and sanctuary opened in 2004.

Her death was not reported Wednesday on the sanctuary's website. She was born Nov. 17, 1985, at the Language Research Center at Georgia State University in Atlanta and had lived at the Des Moines center since 2005.

Among the remaining six apes is Panbanisha's famous 32-year-old half brother, Kanzi, who is called "the world's undisputed ape-language superstar." He converses with humans by selecting symbols on a tablet computer. He's been interviewed by Anderson Cooper, and played piano with Paul McCartney and Peter Gabriel.

The sanctuary passed a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection in mid-September a day after the trust's board suspended Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, the executive director and an ape researcher, reported the Register, which is published by USA TODAY's parent, Gannett. A dozen former caretakers and other staffers have alleged she "is mentally unfit to run the center and that the seven bonobos living there are at risk of injury," the paper writes.

Ever since the founder of the Great Ape Trust ended funding in late 2011, as he had planned, the 230-acre facility has struggled to raise money. Most of the staff has been laid off.

Three caretakers, including Savage-Rumbaugh's sister and niece, and several volunteers were helping care for the apes, the paper said in September.


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