Archive for February, 2009

The Insanity of Keeping Wild Animals as ‘Pets’

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

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.

Blogging Off


***Latest update***

Captive Primate Safety Act PASSED by House of Representatives

Good news tinged with sad reality

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Although I am always pleased to hear that an animal has been rescued from an horrific situation, this happiness is always overshadowed by the fact that this animal was put in a position from which it had to be rescued – problems such as illegal trade and exploitation continue to negatively impact wildlife around the world.

News from Thailand recently described the confiscation of eleven orangutans by authorities after they were discovered by the investigation team of the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand. These highly intelligent and highly endangered primates had apparently been smuggled into Thailand over the course of several months.   I imagine the conditions they were being kept in were far from ideal – before they were confiscated, some of these animals were being used as photographic props.  Almost certainly captured from the wild, using orangutans (or any animal) in this way will be harmful. Repeated handling by humans can be very stressful and when they are no longer small and cute or easy to handle, these animals often end up in slum zoos, circuses or even being killed.  With this in mind, the confiscation of these orangutans is a great step in the right direction and I hope that with continued pressure from the authorities the illegal trade will be tackled far earlier in the process, before confiscations are necessary.

The dangers wild orangutans face are numerous, not least from the encroachment of humans into orangutan habitat.  Born Free are working to protect the “person of the forest” (the literal translation of orangutan) within its natural habitat, finding unique ways to help humans and orangutans live in harmony.  A recent report from the field in north Sumatra where Born Free funds research into the causes and solutions of human-orangutan conflict, describes a novel, community-led answer to lessening human impact on orangutans’ habitat.  With funds from Born Free and Humane Society International, Gail Campbell-Smith, the project leader, organised the villagers and provided tools and materials for them to improve the local road system constructing very low impact, 18 inch wide cement tracks which will make travel and communications vastly easier.   These small yet unique solutions are a real benefit to communities living with wildlife. 

From habitat destruction to illegal trade and human conflict, orangutans are facing an uncertain future – the IUCN Red List 2008 states both species of orangutan have a “decreasing” population.  However, by encouraging the authorities to enforce wildlife trade legislation and by delivering small scale, practical solutions like those in north Sumatra, there is hope yet for the orangutan and I look forward to the day when they no longer need to be rescued.

Blogging off,