The recent chimpanzee attack in Stamford, Conn., was a tragedy for the woman who was horribly mauled. It was also a reminder that primates should not keep other primates as pets. The obvious reason is the danger involved. No matter how tame they may sometimes appear, chimpanzees are vastly stronger than most people realize. And no matter how socialized a chimpanzee seems, it is still in exile from its kind, its way of being.
Travis, the 200-pound chimp in Stamford who was shot and killed by police, was marginally legal. Had his owner registered him – as required in Connecticut for primates over 50 pounds – he would have been fully legal. But Travis had been exempted, largely for good behavior.
At present, there may be as many as 15,000 primate pets in the United States. Only 20 states prohibit keeping them as pets, and there is no federal law against it. But there may soon be a law that makes it much harder to obtain them.
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the Captive Primate Safety Act, which would ban the interstate transport of primates as pets. The Senate should quickly follow. The legislation poses no risk to federally licensed facilities, such as zoos and wildlife sanctuaries.
Unfortunately, chimpanzees are only a small part of the global exotic pet trade, which is fueled by greed, curiosity and a misplaced, often wildly sentimental interest in animals. It’s only natural to feel empathy for a chimp that has been orphaned, one way or another, into the human world. But chimps belong with other chimps – in proper wildlife sanctuaries – and not living as if they were nearly human among humans.