Feature

Chimp attack: Turning primates into pets

Can chimpanzees be domesticated pets or should they b reserved only for the wild?

Talk about “animal attraction,” said Perry Chiaramonte in the New York Post. “She fed him filet mignon and lobster tails. They shared cozy glasses of wine. They bathed and slept together. He tenderly brushed her hair.” It might have been a sweet story, except that Sandra Herold, 70, of Stamford, Conn., engaged in these “loving acts” with a 200-pound pet chimp. The 15-year-old chimp, Travis, was sometimes very cranky with humans who were not his “mommy,” and he finally snapped last week—attacking a neighbor of Herold’s and leaving her mauled beyond recognition. Police called to the scene gunned Travis down as he charged at them. In recent years, said Angela Carella in the Danbury, Conn., News-Times, the chimp had bit two other people, and once menaced motorists after jumping out of Herold’s pickup. Animal-control officials warned Herold that Travis was reaching an age at which male chimps become very aggressive, but she couldn’t bear to give him up. Herold’s daughter and her husband had died in recent years, and the chimp had become Herold’s “surrogate child and spouse.” 
 
That was a dangerous delusion, said Bryan Walsh in Time.com. The fact that Travis could bathe and dress himself and even play on a computer made him seem “close to human.” But chimps are territorial predators, and powerful ones at that—a 200-pound chimp is five to seven times stronger than a person the same size. In the wild, they kill other chimps and animals, and in captivity, sometimes attack humans. Maybe this horror story will remind us that chimps and other wild animals “are not playthings,” said Warren Holstein in Huffingtonpost.com. “Yes, chimps have 96 percent of our DNA, but that 4 percent makes a vast difference.” They’re ultimately controlled by “unrelenting instincts which we are powerless to tame.”

So let’s stop turning wild animals into pets, said Michael Markarian in the Chicago Sun-Times. “‘Pet’ primates have become a dangerous fad in America,” with an estimated 15,000 chimps, macaque monkeys, and other species living in houses and apartments. At least 100 people have been mauled by captive primates in the last decade. These emotionally complex creatures are often kept chained or confined in small cages, rendered less dangerous by having their teeth removed. Without tougher laws barring this inhumane pastime, people and animals alike will continue to suffer. “Primates belong in the wild, not in our backyards and basements.”

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