Chimps Do Not Make Good Pets

Angus wrote me asking for updates about Moe the Chimp but he also asked if the Montana Chimpanzees will pose a risk to their owner–so rather than just address him, I thought I’d share my response with you as well.

Repeat after me, “Chimps do not make good pets…

Even so, if you have $50,000 in spare change you can buy a chimpanzee for a pet…at least right now you can but interstate trade of captive born chimps may change soon.

This chimp for sale ad made me cringe:

Baby Chimp for Sale: Very tamed, vet checked and approved potty, diaper and crate trained female chimpanzee ready for a loving home. She’s very tamed and not aggressive. She’s home raised and around kids. She’s a playmate for kids and adults and gets along with other pets. She’s going to come with all papers, toys, sample foods and a very large crate. If interested and ready to give this girl the kind of home we are looking for, get back to us for more information.

I find it interesting that people still naively want to believe that chimpanzees can be pets.

Jeanne Rizzotto, the private chimp owner who recently appeared on the Today Show, may believe that they can.

She is scheduled for a court appearance later this week for violating a chimpanzee quarantine order that Rizzotto says she never received notification about.

The quarantine came after Rizzotto’s chimps escaped and a woman was bit.

Allegedly the Realtor’s property was breached and the lock to the chimpanzee enclosure was cut facilitating the chimpanzee escape in 2008 . (The security camera footage is up for review to substantiate this claim.)

Rizzotto’s chimp holding areas include a 7,000-square-foot enclosure with a 2,800-square-foot indoor facility connecting into Rizzotto’s home from a breezeway.

Even so, housing young chimps is a huge liability and captive lives as pets isn’t optimal for the species.

I find it amazing that sales are made to novices without any requirement of training.

Most hobbyists are unprepared to deal with a wild animal and provide for it through it’s entire lifetime–which is why there are so many of these animals in sanctuaries.

Wild animals need consistent environmental enrichment, adequate nutrition, and humans need to have a good understanding of the species and the social dynamics in order to deal with these developing and extremely strong creatures.

Most don’t have any idea of what it takes to deal with an escape, let alone how to mitigate an incident.

Dr. Eric Klaphake said it quite well:

“Of all of the animals I’ve had under my care, my worst nightmares are about chimps getting loose,” he said. “I’d almost rather face a tiger or polar bear.”

Well said. They also have the mental capacity to “fake you out” intentionally.

Most people don’t want to believe chimps (or any other wild animal) remain dangerous or would attack someone that has raised them.

I even have friends (not in the animal profession) that are naive.

For instance, I once took a friend of mine to visit another wild animal trainer I worked with early in my career.

My pal grew up in Africa and has that “isn’t it cute and it won’t hurt me” ideology about any animal.

The trainer had a mature male chimp housed on the premises and she wanted to interact with it.

When we both told her to stay back, she was mortified.

Later, he shared that if the chimpanzee ever escaped that he would have to shoot it.

She gasped in disbelief and would not believe the risk from such a creature.

Believe it.

Now, the issue with the Montana chimpanzees is an interesting one because they are private property and attempts to take them away will probably result in an ugly battle.

But the other issue is that these chimps have not really matured yet–so the worst is yet to come–and there is no telling when it will arrive.

In the wild, chimpanzees are considered infants until they are five and then enter into a juvenile stage from five to seven years of age.

Depending on the gender, adolescence occurs from seven years until 10 to 12 years of age before chimpanzees become sub adults and then enter adulthood.

In captivity these stages seem to occur earlier.

Not to dismiss the dangers of a chimp at any age, but I have to say that things really get hairy as early as two years of age and I’ve been on a set with a male chimp just slightly past that age who was already beginning to be a terror and nobody (other than the veteran animal people) wanted to believe it.

Having worked with chimps previously at a private animal acting facility and in zoos–I don’t have to be convinced and have always known that wild animals remain wild animals even if they are trained animals.

Without good boundaries and training and know how–the Montana Chimps will increasingly become a danger to Rizzotto but not necessarily to others unless they escape again.

It would be good for her to see a male chimpanzee in full display to lodge the image in her head.

Perhaps one like the display I saw when I was preparing an evaluation for my column, Animal Behavior Concerns & Solutions.

I traveled to Northern California where I met a very violent male chimpanzee who held a grudge (he escaped to attack the zoo director and many other exploits) and who exhibited high aggressive displays to make sure everyone knew he was trouble.

He never relented on his display for one minute.

Unless you have seen it or felt how powerful they are in a display, you can’t imagine the intensity or the danger.

The Montana Chimps are just now entering into adolescence.

When chimps enter adolescence and adulthood their hormones escalate and keep pumping through their bodies making them really dangerous.

Hopefully we won’t read of another incident with these two chimps–but if Rizzotto fails to view her animals as the chimps that they are–we probably will.

Other links of interest:

Huffington Post on Travis the Chimp

Evaluation of A Chimpanzee Enrichment Enclosure

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  1. Hi Amy, this is my professional and personal blog and not an open forum.

    You can learn about the comments policy here:

    I tend to approve comments from all perspectives as long as they are factual and in alignment with the comment policies.

    Although personal opinions sometimes are approved, unless they contribute to the conversation and are backed up by sources they might not appear.

    Also, multiple sequential comments by the same person are usually not approved if they are not part of a dialog with either the blogger or another commenter.

    One comment is sufficient. (You tried posting four in a row.)

    If you have been reading the blog you will know how I feel about exotic animals as pets:

    This does not mean however, that I have not helped private owners with exotic animals.

    Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with my background and the policies here and you should have no problems participating.