By Marc Bekoff,
Psychology Today - Animal Emotions
There's a need for strong regulations against keeping exotic animals in homes
Wild animals are dangerous and should not be kept as pets. Consider the tragic story of C.J. and Buddy, two chimpanzees who lived in a home in Nevada. When discussing the need for regulations on the private possession of exotic pets in Nevada or elsewhere, it’s important to see the jungle for the trees.
C.J. and Buddy, the two chimpanzees who escaped from a residential Clark County neighborhood in July, were treated as pets, but were and always remained highly sentient wild animals. In a natural situation, chimpanzees typically remain with their mothers, nursing, playing with siblings, and learning to forage until they are about 8 years old. A mother chimpanzee in the wild patiently teaches her young vital skills such as hunting, foraging, and using tools, as well as the subtleties of their community’s culture.
But the story of C.J. and Buddy followed a drastically different course: Born at a chimpanzee breeding facility in Texas, ripped from their mothers and sold shortly after birth, dressed in baby clothes and pampered as virtual children, C.J. and Buddy were propped up in front of cameras and thrust into the spotlight, and then, too powerful to handle after just a few years, eventually locked away in a backyard cage. Such treatment would drive a person mad and it drives a chimpanzee bonkers. We know that chimpanzees and other animals suffer from a wide variety of mood and anxiety disorders.
When you understand that an adult chimpanzee is many times stronger than any human and has the capability to crush bones with his jaws, you see the animal the Clark County officer was forced to shoot dead that fateful July morning when C.J. and Buddy ran amok. C.J.’s life was undoubtedly shattered as she watched Buddy, the only companion she had ever had, die, and it is because of this trauma that she likely acted out again, escaping two more times following her escape with Buddy.
Yet, it is only because of this tragedy that C.J.’s luck turned around, and she is headed to a sanctuary where she will make new friends in a more suitable environment. It’s the best outcome for her, but it’s a very rare outcome for most pet primates who are cast into roles as surrogate children or household pets. When pet primates reach sexual maturity and begin powerfully acting out many are locked away in a backyard or basement cages, dumped at shoddy roadside zoos, pseudo-sanctuaries, backyard menageries, or breeding facilities. These sentient, emotional, and intelligent animals, who can live to be 60 years old, often spend those years wasting away in a cage, slowly losing their minds. Others, seeking an escape from the profound and relentless boredom, make a mad dash for freedom, which, as was the case for Buddy, almost always ends badly.
And chimpanzees are not the only primates kept as pets who are capable of inflicting serious injuries; smaller primates also pose a significant danger. Even those individuals who have been subjected to painful tooth extractions can inflict serious bruising and break skin, and they can all spread parasitic, bacteria,l and viral infections. Macaque monkeys, popular in the pet trade, naturally carry the Herpes B virus that is often fatal to humans. Health risks are so serious that people in Canada who work with primates are not allowed to donate blood for fear of spreading known and unknown diseases.
There have been hundreds of dangerous incidents involving captive primates, many kept as pets, including the tragic story of the Connecticut woman (see also) whose face was torn off by her friend’s pet chimpanzee named Travis. Scores of children have been injured by pet monkeys, many requiring hospital treatment while worried parents wait to hear from doctors if they’ve contracted any infectious diseases.
Exotic pets still have wild genes
Travis was not a "domesticated chimpanzee" as a story published by the AP called him. This is a complete misrepresentation of who he was. Travis was accustomed to drinking wine and using a WaterPik to brush his teeth and while this may sound "cute", asking a chimpanzee to do these things is an insult to who they are. In response to this story I noted that domestication is an evolutionary process that results in animals such as our companion dogs and cats who undergo substantial behavioral, anatomical, physiological, and genetic changes during the process. Travis was a socialized chimpanzee who usually got along with humans but not a domesticated being. He still had his wild genes just as do wolves, cougars, and bears who live with humans, and tragedies occur because these are wild animals despite that they're treated as if they're humans. To say there was no known provocation is to ignore this basic fact. Wild animals do not belong in human homes, they can be highly unpredictable (consider other attacks by famous animals on their handlers), and they should be allowed to live at sanctuaries that are dedicated to respecting their lives while minimizing human contact.
The Ohio Exotic Animal Massacre
Let's not forget the massacre of exotic animals in Ohio who were released right before the man who lived with them killed himself. It took a public disaster and embarrassment over a lack of policy to awaken Ohio lawmakers. At the time the animals were released and killed, Ohio had no regulations concerning the keeping of exotic animals as pets but now they do.
Unfortunately, Nevada has set itself up for situations like the Clark County escape and even worse scenarios. Without restrictions regarding the private possession of dangerous wild animals, law enforcement officers will never know if their day will involve holding off a rampaging gunman or trying to stop a neurotic ape. Maybe the Clark County incident will help serve as an impetus for change.
As one of only six states in the nation without restrictions for private ownership of exotic animals, Nevada lawmakers are playing Russian roulette with public safety, and a pet chimpanzee might as well be holding the trigger.
Please contact Nevada's members of Congress (see also) and ask them to change their laws: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/members/NV