Chimp Attack: The Travis Travesty

Once again there is another animal attack in the news. This time it is another chimpanzee attack and a woman is in the hospital in critical condition–and the chimpanzee, Travis is dead.

News commentators mistakenly refer to Travis the chimpanzee as a “monkey” (chimpanzees are apes) and reports that Travis was “fully domesticated” are erroneous.

Wild animals are just that–wild animals. They may have been trained but are not tame critters.

Domestic animals have been selectively bred for traits that keep them amiable for life with humans over multiple generations and thousands of years.

Chimpanzees are an endangered species and wild animals in captivity have few captive bred generations.

Because of the media and ads such as those on Career Builder, people think that chimpanzees are amiable and cooperative creatures. (A travesty that suggests they are humanlike and amiable.)

They are not.

Fortunately the chimps got their pinks slips but the ads were very popular.

Chimpanzees have been portrayed as human-like in a variety of situations since the 1930s when Cheeta made appearances in Tarzan.

and Enos, the astrochimps, were famous for their trips into space.

And then of course there are the chimps that communicate such as Washoe (who passed away in 2007 but whose story is found in Next of Kin: My Conversations with Chimpanzees) or Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human.

But those of us who have worked with such creatures know how dangerous they really are and don’t take such potential lightly.

Chimps: The Dark Side is just one documentary that reveals the other side of chimpanzees.

I also remember one called, Chimp Wars (or something similar) but have not been able to find the reference. (Leave a comment below if you can help me on this).

The Travis the chimp incident is a tragedy but the distorted views of privately owned chimpanzees by people such as Herold, or those who are show in commercials such as the Career Builder series of ads, is a travesty (undignified or trivializing treatment of a chimpanzee and a gross parody of the real animal).

Anyway, there is speculation that the hair color changes of the victim (or that perhaps the influence of lyme disease) might have influenced the chimps behavior.

Uh let me clear something up here–Travis, even though he was trained, was a large, adult chimpanzee.

Testosterone + strength + natural behavior (chimps can be volatile) + lack of control = bad behavior (in this case an animal attack).

The News Times reported:

Many Stamford residents know Travis for an incident in October 2003, when the chimp jumped out of an SUV in which he was riding with Herold and her late husband, Jerome.

The incident occurred after a young man threw something at the SUV that went through a half-open window and struck Travis while they were stopped at a traffic light. Startled, Travis unbuckled his seat belt, opened the SUV door and went after the man, but did not catch him.

Travis then played at the busy Tresser Boulevard intersection for about two hours. Each time they lured him into the SUV, he got back out by opening the door before they could lock it. The same thing happened when they tried to get Travis into the back of a police cruiser. At one point the chimp chased officers around a police car parked on Tresser Boulevard. Police finally forced him back into the SUV.

Excuse me–played?

Somehow people mistakenly think that wild animals can be good pets but this chimp was misbehaving (or behaving like a normal chimpanzee) not “playing innocently.”

In the past it was possible to obtain wild animals and keep them as pets but this practice has been severely curtailed in many states such as California.

Even so, people somehow manage to have wild animals as pets.

From the same article I quoted from before:

It is not illegal to own an exotic pet in Connecticut, but a law requires new owners to have permits. The law was not retroactive and did not apply to the Herolds…

Permits are required and are governed by the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection)

Connecticut Sec. 26-40a states: Possession of potentially dangerous animals. For the purposes of this section, the following shall be considered as potentially dangerous animals: the felidae, including the lion, leopard cheetah, jaguar, ocelot, jaguarundi cat, puma, lynx and bobcat; the canidae, including the wolf and coyote and the ursidae, including the black bear, grizzly bear and brown bear. No person shall possess a potentially dangerous animal. Any such animal illegally possessed may be disposed of as determined by the commissioner of environmental protection. Any person who violates any provision of this section shall be fined not more than one hundred dollars for each offense. the provisions of this section shall not apply to municipal parks, zoos and nature centers, or museums laboratories and research facilities maintained by scientific or educational institutions or to persons possessing animals legally on or before May 23, 1983.

Did I read that right? The fine is only one hundred bucks? Plus the dangerous animal list is lacking a few species.

Someone needs a spanking…

USDA requires permits for those holding wild animals but who else monitors private exotic pet ownership in Connecticut? (I am waiting to hear back on this issue.)

Another one of my questions is why did they not have proper holding facilities for this animal?

Clearly they didn’t have good behavioral control over him as evidenced by the previous reported incident.

Need I mention that there did not seem to be any contingency plans for capturing or restraining this animal?

Charla Nash, the friend who Sandra Herold called to help her “coax the chimp” back into the house, is currently in critical condition.

The unfortunate part of this story is that because of owner error a few people were injured and a captive wild animal lost his life.

Most of you know that I do not support the private ownership of wild animal pets.

In this case the woman had no business housing or transporting such an animal–much less asking for help from a friend to contain a large captive chimpanzee.

This is a tragedy but it also shows how irresponsible animal ownership can go bad.

Here is the Sandra Herold 911 call during the chimp attack on Charla Nash:

Wayne Pacelle at HSUS wrote:

The U.S. House passed the Captive Primate Safety Act to ban the interstate transport of primates for the pet trade, by a vote of 302-96 (with all of the “no” votes coming from Republican lawmakers). Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) and a few other anti-animal lawmakers made fun of this attempt to stop the abuse of primates in the pet trade and to protect people and communities, but fortunately, their efforts fell short in the House. But in the Senate, despite repeated efforts by bill co-authors Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and David Vitter (R-La.) to get the legislation over the finish line and sent to President Bush for his signature, Sen.Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) blocked consideration of the bill. But for Coburn, a medical doctor, we’d now have a federal law banning the interstate transport of dangerous primates as pets.

There will be more commentary in the days and weeks to come.

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  1. a CNN commentator made a good point about the impossibility of ever truly domesticating a wild animal, no matter how much you want it to to be domesticated

  2. @Joe Yes, I believe I mentioned that as well. They are wild animals and are hardwired to remain as such. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. TRAVESTY (per Merriam-Webster):

    1: a burlesque translation or literary or artistic imitation usually grotesquely incongruous in style, treatment, or subject matter;

    2: a debased, distorted, or grossly inferior imitation.

    Word play’s fine and all, but ‘travesty’ and ‘tragedy’ aren’t interchangeable terms.

  4. @quidproquo In no way have I dismissed the tragedy of the situation just the way chimpanzees are parodied in the media and by people who think they are human like rather than recognized for the animals that they are.

    The Travis the chimp incident is a tragedy but the distorted views of privately owned chimpanzees by people such as Herold, or those who are shown in commercials such as the Career Builder series of ads, is a travesty (undignified or trivializing treatment of a chimpanzee and a gross parody of the real animal).

    Next time have the guts to leave your real name and read more closely.

  5. This woman is, was, and always will be a complete IDIOT!

  6. It appears so. Sad to see such removed ideas about wild animal maintenance and care–not to mention irresponsible behavior for management. Her friend is maimed for life, her chimp dead, and she has to live with the choices she made for the rest of her life. Very sad.