Great Ape Trust turns to public fundraising after losing only major sponsor
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2011:
DES MOINES–Still housing seven bonobos and two orangutans,
after making deep program budget cuts, the Great Ape Trust “has
launched a fundraising campaign in a fight to stay open after founder
and sole funder Ted Townsend informed the staff his financial support
will cease at the end of the year,” reported Perry Beeman of the
Des Moines Register on August 25, 2011.
Founded by primatologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh in 2002 as the
Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary, opened in 2004 after two years of
construction, the Great Ape Trust “has conducted landmark cognitive
and social research on bonobos,” recalled Beeman. “But most of its
orangutans have already been shipped out to the Indianapolis Zoo, it
is ending contracts with some of its researchers, and its budget,”
according to Savage-Rumbaugh, “is now a fourth of what it once was.”
IRS Form 990 filings show that the Great Ape Trust spent $5
million in 2008, but cut back to $3.8 million in 2009.
“Staff members are looking for another organization to take
over a massive reforestation and community development project in
Rwanda,” Beeman continued. “Conservation director Ben Beck and
Peter Clay will be out of jobs at the end of December. Beck just
returned from Rwanda, where he told the Rwandan staffers they may
lose their jobs. Chimpanzee researcher Rebecca Chancellor is still
the principal investigator on the scene, but the trust hasn’t paid
her a stipend since last year,” Beeman added.
Said the Great Ape Trust in a prepared statement, “Since its
inception in 2002, Great Ape Trust has been funded primarily by Ted
Townsend. However, Townsend’s commitment was not intended to continue
Formerly chief executive of Townsend Engineering Co.,
Townsend sold the business to the Dutch firm Stork Food Systems in
2004. Townsend reportedly invested $21 million of the proceeds in
the Great Ape Trust, and invested $10 million in Earthpark, a
venture which was to include “a 600,000-gallon freshwater aquarium,
prairie and wetland exhibits, an indoor rainforest biome, and
galleries on global environmental science issues,” reported Beth
Dalbey of Business Record in 2005. Townsend also founded the U.S.
Center for Citizen Diplomacy, housed with the yet to be developed
Earthpark under the umbrella of Townsend Vision Inc.
Townsend reportedly expected his donations to help attract
foundation grants, but few materialized. “As the lack of other
funding continued, Townsend sold his corporate airplane and a house
he rarely visited,” wrote Beeman.
Incorporated with the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3)
public charity, the Great Ape Trust has until now done little public
fundraising. Holding 501(c)(3) status requires that a charity must
raise at least a third of its funds over a five-year period from
persons other than officers and directors. Since Townsend was on the
Great Ape Trust board, the scope of his donations suggests that
there may be some question as to whether the Great Ape Trust is still
a 501(c)(3) charity.
Usually the IRS reclassifies as a private foundation any
501(c)(3) charity that does not meet the public support test.