Earlier this week a Connecticut woman was attacked by a 200 pound chimpanzee named Travis who had been kept as a pet for 14 years. The woman was friends with the chimp’s “owner”, and was called to help coax him back indoors after he escaped using a key to unlock the front door. Sandra Herold, the woman who kept Travis, seemed surprised by this attack on her friend because “He could eat at the table, drink wine from a stemmed glass, use the toilet, and dress and bathe himself. He brushed his teeth with a Water Pik, logged on to a computer to look at photos and channel-surfed television with the remote control.” The thing is, those abilities make him very intelligent, but they still do not make him a domesticated pet. Travis, like all other chimps, no matter how many amazing “human-like” behaviors they exhibit, are still wild animals who do not belong to anybody else, and who will undoubtedly revert back to their instincts eventually. In addition, chimpanzees have about 5 times the strength of a human male, so if and when they attack, it is going to be brutal – as it was for Herold’s friend, Charla Nash, who is still in critical condition in the hospital.
During the attack, Herold called police, and pleaded with them to help her friend. In the end, police shot Travis, killing him instantly. Now, of course I feel awful that Ms. Nash was attacked so brutally….but it also makes me extremely angry that this poor chimpanzee was killed simply for being a chimpanzee. Sandra Herold’s ignorance about what Travis needed – i.e. to not be kept as a prisoner, basically – led to this attack, and I blame her, not Travis, for her friend’s injuries. What’s more is that the state of Connecticut (and the US as a whole) needs to take some of the responsibility for this. Herold was legally issued a permit to keep Travis as a pet. I am hopeful that animal advocates will rise to the call and try to make some legislative changes, as one has already begun to do:
“A chimpanzee is not a domestic pet,” said Pricilla Feral, president of the international animal advocacy group Friends of Animals, based in Darien. “Keeping an animal like that as a pet and force-training it goes against all of its natural instincts. For an attack like this to happen should be expected.”
Feral said she was appalled to hear the state issues permits to homeowners for primates such as chimpanzees. In the wake of Monday’s incident, Feral is calling on the state to adopt new legislation that would make primate pet ownership illegal. She is also requesting that existing permits for primates be exposed and revoked.
“The state has no business issuing permits to people to keep these animals as pets,” said Feral. “The fact that Stamford allowed this to occur in its own backyard is astonishing.”
I couldn’t agree more.