Stamford Attack Raises Debate on Raising Chimpanzees as Pets

February 18, 2009

(ChattahBox) — The ferocious attack by a chimpanzee of a woman in Stamford, Conn., on Feb. 16 raises a lot of questions in the wisdom of keeping wild animals as pets. The 200-lb. chimp named Travis, was raised by owner, Sandra Herold, 70, as part of her own family. Travis had no history of violence — aside from one incident in 2003 when he escaped and stopped traffic in Stamford for hours. But when Charla Nash, 55, a friend of Herold’s, came to visit on Monday afternoon, Travis suddenly lashed out at her. The 14-year-old chimpanzee latched onto Nash’s face and tore it apart.

His owner was forced to call 911, then attack and repeatedly stab him — a cherished pet she had reared for years — with a butcher knife in a desperate attempt to save her friend. The chimp was shot dead by a police officer, who was also threatened. The victim’s injuries were reportedly gruesome; the head paramedic who treated her on the scene told the New York Times that he had “never seen anything this dramatic on a living patient.” Nash remains in extremely critical condition.

But even as investigators try to figure out exactly what triggered Travis’s attack many animal experts believe that a chimpanzee living among people is simply a bad idea. No matter how many years it has lived peacefully as a pet, a chimpanzee is not a domesticated animal and can snap without warning.  Travis was a beloved figure around Stamford; who could bathe and dress himself and use a computer — qualities that made him seem dangerously close to human. One possible explanation for Travis’ attack is that he was suffering from Lyme disease, which in rare cases is linked to psychotic behavior.

But in the wild, chimpanzees will attack and kill other chimps. Though mostly vegetarian, they will also hunt and kill other animals for food; An adult 200-pound chimpanzee like Travis has nearly superhuman strength – five to seven times stronger than a person of the same size, especially in the upper body. Despite the potential threat chimpanzees pose, many U.S. states, including Connecticut, legally allow people to raise them as pets. There is a bill pending in Congress the Captive Primate Safety Act, that would ban the private selling of primates as pets. The bill has stalled since it was introduced in 2005, but the Stamford assault may well renew the debate.


One Response to “Stamford Attack Raises Debate on Raising Chimpanzees as Pets”

  1. Viktoria Voller on November 12th, 2009 7:47 pm

    I have a strong passion for animal rights. Currently, I serve on the Board of Directors for the Humane Society of Northwest Indiana and my dog writes the “Ask Ollie” advice column for the Post Tribune newspaper that services readers in the northwest Indiana market. He has written extensively on the dangers of adopting feral animals, the horrors of puppy mills and the devastation and destruction of the human spirit and dogs in the “sport” if dog fighting.
    The events in Connecticut are chilling. In fact, I can’t get it out of my mind.
    However, I have two questions. First, in one account I read it said that Charla had changed her hair color, drove a different car and teased Travis with a stuffed toy near her face to get him back into his quarters. Is this true? Secondly, in another account, it mentions that Travis was on Xanix. Can that drug plus the Lyme’s disease produce psychotic behavior in a chimp? Chimps don’t see what we see so it occurred to me that Charla may have appeared to be life threatening and he snapped. What else do we know about chimp behavior?

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