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February 19, 2009

Talk Back: Turmoil Over Travis

As the lurid and unsettling details of the chimpanzee attack on 55-year-old Charla Nash come to light, it is so obvious that we need better and more complete state and federal laws to stop the trade in wild animals as pets, specifically the larger animals with sharp teeth or claws and predatory instincts. Travis was stabbed and then shot, after the 200-pound chimp zeroed in on the most vulnerable parts of Ms. Nash and disfigured her. News reports today indicate her vital signs are improving, but her condition is still critical.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a great friend to The HSUS, is calling on the state to adopt strong laws against possessing exotics. “Keeping exotic animals like chimpanzees, poisonous snakes or crocodiles in residential settings plays Russian Roulette with public safety," Blumenthal said yesterday. "I call for a legislative prohibition—not permits—for potentially dangerous exotic animals.” About 20 states have strong laws banning keeping primates as pets, but that still leaves more than half the states needing to make major improvements in their laws.

And in Congress, key lawmakers have vowed swift consideration of the Captive Primate Safety Act, H.R. 80, and major action may occur as early as Monday night on the House floor. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), the co-author of H.R. 80 with Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), said on Tuesday, “My thoughts go out to the woman who was injured yesterday. For the safety of our communities and for the safety of these animals, I will continue to work with The Humane Society of the United States and my colleagues in Congress to pass the Captive Primate Safety Act, a common-sense bill which would prohibit interstate primate trade to ultimately reduce this practice.” Rep. Kirk added, “It is inhumane to cage primates in private homes. Besides the animal cruelty concerns, the interstate movement of pet primates creates serious public health and safety risks.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer, chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, is introducing the Senate version of the Captive Primate Safety Act next week with Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), and the bill goes to her committee. She told the press this week that “passage of this bill is long overdue.”

Many of you agree and wrote to me in response to my blog on Tuesday. Here is some of your feedback

Bravo, Wayne! It's Thursday morning (Feb. 19), and I just saw more on the chimp story on the news. I kept thinking to myself, "Others must be as outraged as I am, as it's truly shameful our legislators allow ownership of exotic animals to continue." So I went straight to HSUS's homepage to see if there was an article on this tragic story. I was happy to see that Wayne's blog entry paralleled my thoughts exactly. Let's hope this tragedy puts a fire under Congress to do the right thing for animals who should be left in the wild, as well as for humans who should never have been put at risk in the first place. That poor chimp. Another one dead due to the stupidity of man. —Deedee D.

I think the Captive Primate Safety Act should be called Travis's Bill. He did everything his human asked of him for 14 years, most of which included acting like a human and not like a chimp. And when he finally acted like the chimp he was, he was shot. What a tragedy. I hope all HSUS members will contact their reps to support Travis's bill. —Karen Lund

I hope Senator Coburn is now taking this bill seriously. As for Representative Westmoreland, I'm positive that the woman mauled and her family do not find this funny at all. WAKE UP legislators! This is a serious bill with tragic consequences if not passed. It's not a matter of "if" this will happen again but "when." America needs to stop keeping chimpanzees as pets and exploiting them for entertainment purposes. You can NEVER train a chimp not to be a wild animal. This stupidity has got to stop! These animals should not be put in a position to be killed for acting in their nature. —Theresa Strunk

I totally agree with you about this. I was not aware that Connecticut allows primates to be kept as pets, so long as they're registered and licensed. How insane. I love apes and I used to love watching movies, shows and commercials with them, until I learned how these animals are treated. Additionally, the more people who see young chimps dressed and acting like humans on TV, the more they think that apes really are that much like humans, which they are not. Thank you for providing such an informative post about the issues of apes in the pet trade and entertainment industries. I was not aware of the bill in Congress that would have banned interstate transport of primates. Hopefully it will come through again, now that we have a slightly more compassionate and Democratic Senate. —Melanie Kiser

Well said, Wayne. I was horrified when I read this story last night on CNN.com and immediately sent the story to everyone I know. Travis would've had a good life at the Center for Great Apes or Save the Chimps instead of spending years as a human ape's pet. Please, everyone, donate to these organizations so they can work to save more chimps from labs and from the entertainment business and from being held as pets. Lobby Congress to pass the Captive Primate Safety Act with the provisions Wayne mentioned. This was a preventable tragedy and it's up to us to work hard to get chimps out of labs and roadside zoos and homes and into sanctuaries. —Sheryl

Thank you for saying what needed to be said. Thank you for laying culpability at all of the human feet along the way that enabled this tragedy to occur. Now there is a woman with critical and life-changing injuries, and a chimp is dead. "Travis" has paid with his life for all the humans along the way who for reasons or agendas of their own participated in developing this tragedy. —Stacy Thomas

You said it all and said it well. We can only hope our legislators will listen. —Rebecca Poling

Just as with the downer cow problem, "regular" people don't even know what's going on with animal issues. It takes something out of the ordinary to shock them into action. It's unfortunate that the woman was seriously injured because lawmakers need to bow to the pharmaceutical companies that need these animals for their own purposes. —Lisa J.

Thank you for a well-written, comprehensive discussion of the problem of wild animals as pets. This story saddened me so—I only hope that his death will cause all states to ban this type of "pet." —Janet in Florida

We are very sad to hear that this chimpanzee was shot and killed. After being taken from his home, forced to live with and like humans, he probably thought his day would come when he would be returned to his real home. It is ridiculous that people think that a chimpanzee can adapt the way that a dog or a cat can. Chimpanzees are remarkable animals with complex living experiences and we as humans can never begin to understand how to properly give a chimpanzee what it truly needs to survive away from its natural environment. Yesterday was a very sad day. He never made it home. Instead, he was shot down like a criminal, after years of obediently waiting for his chance at going home. Pathetic! —Erlyn, Mark and Katie

Once again an animal is dead and an innocent person is clinging to life because some in our society insist upon trying to make a wild animal act like a human. They are not humans. Unfortunately, degrading and exploiting animals like chimpanzees are successful marketing practices. We should boycott any corporation that uses them in this manner. —Barbara

Thank you for these enlightened words. Colossal human stupidity is quite the understatement. The truth is, my heart goes out to the chimp and his tragic end and to all animals that suffer at the hands of our selfish, cruel and ignorant species. —Jasmine North

I read the story in the SF Chronicle regarding the chimp attack. And I just finished reading Jane Goodall's biography; I am very inspired by her work. This story is so upsetting and is a huge warning sign. Each animal is an individual, as you know, with their own wants, needs, and personalities, which do not necessarily match or fit our own. Keep speaking out for the animals, people are listening. —Janet

I completely agree with you, Wayne. I had the same thoughts yesterday when I heard of the attack. Obviously, I feel horrible for the woman who was mauled, but the real question here is why her friend was allowed and eager to keep a wild animal in her apartment. My only thought was, "Well, hello?!?" —Kimberli

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