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Chimp gone wild

By Scott Tibbs, February 19, 2009

Anyone who knows me knows that I adore my two Beagle mixes. However, as much fun as the dogs have been, I would never even consider getting a wolf as a pet. The instincts are too strong and the animal is too powerful to be trusted. Unless someone is highly trained and has the facilities to house a wild animal, they should not be kept as pets, especially with children around.

This brings me to the case of a 200 pound chimpanzee that was kept as a pet, before going berserk and savagely maiming his owner's friend. Police called to the scene shot and killed the animal. By all indications, "Travis" was a well behaved animal, and this attack was unexpected. But, trained and domesticated or not, a chimpanzee is still a wild animal. At 200 pounds, he is very strong and a chimp's teeth are designed by nature to be a deadly weapon. Clearly, his owner was not prepared for the possibility that the chimp could become aggressive.

There are conflicting reports that the chimp's owner gave him Xanax to calm him down. If this is true (and the owner denies it) I am just stunned by the stupidity of it. No matter how "human" a chimp may seem, you simply do not take an anxiety drug designed for humans and give it to an animal. Chimps and humans may be similar in some respects, but these drugs were designed with humans in mind and have gone through a large number of tests and studies to determine side effects and so forth, before approval by the Food and Drug Administration. There is no way to know what kind of effect a drug like that would have on an animal.

While I think it is foolish, irresponsible and dangerous to keep a chimp as a pet, I have qualms about a federal law to regulate keeping primates as pets. Ideally, this is something that should be regulated by the states, not the federal government. A one-size-fits-all solution from one city on the East Coast is not the answer. The answer is for the legislatures in the states with weak laws to reform and strengthen the laws they have and the enforcement of those laws to prevent future tragedies.