Connecticut Chimpanzee Attack

Posted by Joyce Tischler, ALDF's Founder and General Counsel on March 2, 2009

The news out of Stamford, Connecticut that a fifteen year old chimpanzee named Travis had seriously mauled a woman and then been shot and killed by police was tragic, but predictable. And, like most people in the animal protection community, I am fuming, because this was so easily avoidable.

Let’s get a few things straight:

Stamford, CT is not the natural habitat of a chimpanzee. Chimpanzees evolved and live in equatorial Africa, generally in tropical forests. They live in large chimpanzee communities with a highly complex social structure.  

Chimpanzees in Africa are wild animals. Chimpanzees brought to the United Stated are wild animals. Chimpanzees born and raised in the United States are still… yes; you’ve got it – wild animals.

There is no such thing as a domesticated chimpanzee. Some in the entertainment industry exploit chimpanzees when they are still small and young enough and to be handled, putting silly clothing on them, beating them into submission and teaching them tricks. So, when we see those baby chimpanzees on television commercials, we are misled to think that chimpanzees are far more like humans than they are.

Look at a photo of an adult chimpanzee. You will notice that most of their body mass is in their head and upper torso: their shoulders and arms are far more powerful than that of a human and they have larger jaw muscles. That bodily structure translates into strength. A chimpanzee is easily twice as strong as even the strongest human.

Chimpanzees are highly intelligent and social beings, but they are not furry humans. They don’t think like humans…they think like chimpanzees, and it bears repeating: chimpanzees are wild animals.

Chimpanzees have evolved to adapt to their natural environment in Africa, just as human beings have evolved to live in our various environments. Chimpanzees have not evolved in a way that enables them to live in our environment and a chimpanzee in suburbia is truly a “stranger in a strange land.” Primate experts all agree that private ownership of chimpanzees is huge mistake and presents an unreasonable danger for everyone involved, human and chimpanzee.

Oh, and one more thing: according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Travis was the son of Suzy, a chimpanzee who was shot to death in 2001, after she escaped from her enclosure. Travis was taken from his mother at birth and sold as a pet. In the wild, chimpanzees stay with their mothers for approximately five years. Welcome to the pet trade industry in America.

Which brings me to the point of this blog:

Keeping a chimpanzee as a pet in a private home is stupid.

Stupid… Stupid… Stupid…

Is there anything that we can do? Here are a few things that I’d suggest:

  1. If you live in a state that does not ban keeping primates as pets, contact your state legislators and ask them to introduce a law that makes it illegal to own, possess or keep primates as pets.
  2. Congress has introduced the Captive Primate Safety Act (H.R. 80) which would ban the interstate transport of primates for the pet trade. Please contact your U.S. Representative and ask him or her to do whatever s/he can to get this important piece of legislation passed.
  3. Learn more about the exploitation of chimpanzees by the pet and entertainment industries in the U.S. Unfortunately, chimpanzees in captivity cannot be sent back to the wild–they won’t survive. But, there are reputable chimpanzee sanctuaries in the U.S. that need your help and financial support, in order to properly care for the chimpanzees who live with them. Check out Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, www.chimpsanctuarynw.org, which is doing a wonderful job of caring for some formerly abused and exploited chimpanzees.


One thought on “Connecticut Chimpanzee Attack

  1. Eryn Pearson says:

    I could not agree more with your article!! I remember reading about the attack when it happened and recently saw Oprah’s special featuring the chimp’s victim, Charla Nash. I could not help but to feel an overwhelming sense of sympathy for her. However, an interview with the chimp’s actual owner disappointed me immensely. I was hoping this tragedy would have spurred some common-sense regarding keeping chimps as pets. It seemed to me, that the owner and some other chimp owners consider this more of a “freak accident.” I just don’t understand how this is a freak accident when Travis, the chimp, had a prior history of biting people. Also, there is an abundance of educational resources discussing the characteristics, health, and needs of chimps. I’ve read several times that when chimps reach a certain age they become very difficult to manage. It’s not like this chimp randomly attacked, there were signs. It blows my mind it is legal anywhere to keep a chimp as a pet. They are wild animals and belong in the wild. How many attacks need to occur before people realize they are not pets?? Hopefully, legislative steps will be taken before it’s too late.