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The YUAN GONG Institute
Ape Power Journey
THE HONORARY BOARD
The Honorary Board is our way of paying homage to the tribes of our living ape cousins who have mostly lacked a voice in human affairs, and who have often suffered in the context of human activity. This Honorary Board is a way of thanking those ape ambassadors, like the legendary originator of Yuan Gong, for teaching us profound and lasting truths that have improved our awareness and understanding. If you have an ape ambassador that you would like to include here, please contact the Yuan Gong Institute.
Congo was a gorilla who was the best friend of our founder, Dawn Prince-Hughes. After being captured as a baby and seeing his whole family's demise, he spent several decades in zoos where he had no grass or adequate room to move. In the 1990s he was moved to Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, intended to be used as a breeding animal. It was in Seattle that Dawn got to know this amazing gorilla person. Though he had every reason to hate human beings, instead he gave everyone a chance, and inspired all who knew him. A sensitive gorilla, he would comfort people in need of support, even pressing his shoulder against the glass and motioning Dawn to put her head there, grunting soothing contentment grunts as she cried. Despite plans, Congo only had one child that lived. When zoo staff believed it would be best to take the baby out of the family and placed her in the Animal Health Department to be raised by humans, Congo died a couple weeks later from an aortic aneurysm. Dawn believes he died of a broken heart. Pictured above is his only surviving offspring, Nadiri.
The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) is a collaborative initiative between the Indonesia-based NGO the Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari (YEL; Sustainable Ecosystem Foundation), Swiss-based NGO the PanEco Foundation, and the Indonesian Government’s Directorate General of Natural Resource and Ecosystem Conservation. The SOCP works on all aspects of conservation of the Critically Endangered Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) and Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis). They confiscate, rehabilitate, and relocate orangutans that have fallen into human hands. One such orangutan is Leuser, named after the renowned Leuser Ecosystem. He is a large, fully adult orangutan who is blind in both eyes due to being shot more than 62 times with an air rifle by people at the edge of the forest. He still has 48 pellets in his body, but apart from being blind is otherwise healthy. He arrived with the SOCP when around 8 years old and has now developed into an extremely handsome adult. He was nominated for the Honorary Board by SOCP as a symbol of the plight of orangutans and as a tribute to his amazingly strong, gentle spirit.
Matata is best known for being the mother of Kanzi, a language study ape knowing over 3,000 words and who has garnered international fame. Dawn Prince-Hughes was invited to get to know Matata and Kanzi in the early 2000s. While Kanzi was an obvious star, Matata's quiet but palpable presence was endearing. Dawn was there one afternoon when Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, under whose care the bonobos have lived, was trying to find out what Matata wanted to eat. Being a wild-caught bonobo, Matata seemed to think human language was not all it was cracked up to be as a means of communication and routinely relied on her son Kanzi to translate. Dawn watched with delight as Sue posed the food question to Kanzi in English, who then turned to his mother and relayed it to Matata in bonobo. She answered in bonobo, whereupon Kanzi then relayed his mother's lunch preference to Sue in a combination of English and lexigram symbols. Often gorillas have been said to be less intelligent because they simply have had too much pride to engage in what they undoubtedly see as silly human tests, and Dawn felt that same kind of pride from Matata. When she was born in Congo in the mid-1970s, she had no idea that she would live a life in captivity that would, despite her decision to forego participation, become a flash point for humans to begin to appreciate the astounding intelligence of bonobos. The persistent dignity with which Matata lived was something that humans, focused on their own enterprises, often fail to appreciate. Matata passed away suddenly in her mid-40s, amid her children and grandchildren, who continue to speak directly for bonobos everywhere.