Some years ago, two well-meaning US citizens, a husband and wife, adopted a baby chimpanzee. They brought him up as if he was a child. When he got too big he was re-homed to a refuge and they visited him almost every birthday.Some years later the couple asked the owner of the refuge whether they could go in with this now fully grown male chimp to celebrate his birthday – into a cage he shared with several other chimps. The result? The woman escaped with serious injuries. The man was beaten to within an inch of his life, losing fingers, toes and other parts of his body in the process.
You’d have thought the message was clear. Chimps – in fact primates in general – are not ‘pets’, they are wild animals and many have the power to inflict terrible damage.
But no. Yesterday in Stamford, Connecticut, USA, a woman was beaten up by Travis, a 16 year old, unlicensed, 200 pound male chimp used in adverts and photo-shoot. Charla Nash who had been visiting Travis’ owner Sandra Herold, now lies critically wounded in hospital. The chimp is dead, gunned down by police. That is what happens when potentially dangerous animals are kept as pets.
I can guarantee this won’t be the last such tragedy as long as it is possible for private individuals to own animals such as chimps. Two things must happen immediately. 1) The Captive Primate Safety Act, which was overwhelmingly passed by Congress last year but not enacted into law, should be passed by the US House and Senate right away. The bill would prohibit the import, export, and interstate movement of all nonhuman primates if they are to be kept as pets. 2) Every state that does not already prohibit the ownership of exotic animals should enact such a comprehensive law at the state level.
It’s not right for people to keep primates as ‘pets’. It’s not fair on the animals who whether acting out of instinct or intent are capable of wreaking terrible havoc on us human primates. People can and do get terribly injured and the animal, inevitably, pays the price when things go wrong – as they surely will.
Let’s get real and pass appropriate laws that will be good for primates and good for us. What kind of bizarre and unreal world have we created where chimpanzees like Travis, allegedly eat steak, drink wine and live in people’s houses, wearing diapers and human clothing – it’s just not natural! If we care for the future of chimpanzees and all great apes (and we should – this is, after all, United Nations Year of the Gorilla) then let’s help protect them in the wild where they belong.