Reports have flooded the media this week with accounts of the brutal attack by the 200 lb. chimpanzee named Travis on a woman visiting his owner. The woman, Charla Nash was nearly killed, Travis was shot dead by the police and his owner, Sandra Herold will forever question her decision to raise a primate in her home.
The circumstances in this story are so sad. And now lawmakers in the U.S. are rushing to create stricter laws about keeping primates and exotic animals as pets. But in this entire flurry of attention, no one has asked about Travis.
Did he benefit from living with humans in a home environment? Was it in his best interest?
On the Jane Goodall Institute website, the famous expert on chimpanzees discusses our human attraction to primates. She discloses how infant chimps are “irresistibly cute.” But she also warns that “Chimpanzees don’t make good pets.” “They grow up fast, and their unique intelligence makes it difficult to keep them stimulated and satisfied in a human environment.”
Even Sandra Herold admitted that she knew the day was coming when Travis would have to go live at a sanctuary. She seemed to know that it wasn’t in his best interest to live in conditions that kept him from other chimps, but perhaps because of our attraction to them, Herold was unable to let go of her primate baby.
Animal Planet TV host, Jeff Corwin explained the nature of chimps on the Today Show. “These creatures are wild and the violence that was exhibited by this chimpanzee is not unknown to the wild chimpanzee society,” said Corwin. “Chimpanzee’s are highly evolved primates, but the truth is these animals live in very complex societies in Africa. It’s not uncommon that a chimpanzee will react to another over territoriality – even killing another chimpanzee.”
Primates are not the only animals at risk living with humans. Recently the founder of an exotic bird sanctuary called Under My Wing Avian Refuge in New Jersey expressed her concern for birds that are adopted by well-meaning, but naïve people. Paula Ashfield who is the founder of the organization calls the neglect to exotic birds like Macaws, Parrots and Cockatoos, “The hidden crisis of cruelty. People don’t understand their needs and once they are overwhelmed by the situation (in their home) it’s easy to tuck a bird away in a basement or closet and forget about them.”
Ashfield said the biggest mistakes people make with exotic birds are: not providing a large enough cage, being unprepared for the wild screeches and sounds and underestimating the cost to raise a bird.
So why do people adopt exotic animals and primates? The Animal Health Care website says that many become “intrigued and infatuated” with a particular exotic pet. While others adopt because they are allergic to the typical cat or dog or because of work schedules or time constraints.
But no matter what the situation is; humans should always consider the pet first. By adopting an exotic animal we are taking it out of its natural habitat, stunting its normal growth to maturity and asking it to stop some natural characteristics in order to adapt to our way of life. For the health and safety of exotic animals, people must consider what is in the best interest of the pet before taking someone like a cuddly, adorable chimp home.