The Sciences

Chimpanzees Are NOT Pets!

The IntersectionBy Sheril KirshenbaumFeb 18, 2009 7:02 PM


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You've likely already seen thisstoryalloverthenews:

Chimp's owner calls vicious mauling 'freak thing'

STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) -- The owner of a 200-pound chimpanzee that viciously mauled a Stamford woman calls the incident "a freak thing," but says her pet was not a "horrible" animal.

Sandra Herold told NBC's "Today Show" in an interview aired Wednesday that Travis, her 14-year-old chimpanzee, was like a son to her.

Herold tried to save her friend by stabbing the chimp with a butcher knife and bludgeoning it with a shovel.

I have extremely strong emotions concerning this particular issue... in part because of my conservation biology background, but more recently, from my friendship with science writer Vanessa Woods and her husband, evolutionary anthropologist Dr. Brian Hare. The very reason they study sanctuary orphans is because often mothers have been killed so the babies can be sold to people who want them as pets. Vanessa explained the problems with this last year at her terrific blog Bonobo Handshake, reposted here:

#1 Chimpanzees are wild animals. Animals that make good PETS like dogs and cats, have been domesticated for [thousands] of years. There has been selection on them against agression, which is why a dog, unlike a wolf, will not automatically tear you to pieces. Anyone who has a pet chimpanzee for long enough will eventually no longer be able to control them and will either get a body part bitten off or will have to use extreme force to control them. Chimps live to be 50 years old and grow almost as big as a human male. They have extremely powerful muscles and are 5-10 stronger than a heavy weight boxer.

This is the size of a full grown adult next to the baby sized chimps you see in commercials and on TV

#2 Because of this aggressive temperament people who sell these animals as pets must do so when they are adorable and harmless infants. Their customers do not know the level of aggression these animals are capable of or there strength.

#3: Even accredited zoos and universities struggle to pay the expenses required to house wild chimps humanely and safely. The vast majority of chimp owners do not have the resources to assure the welfare of their wild pet and the safety of their neighbors.

#4 ALL primates potentially carry diseases deadly to humans including herpes B, yellow fever, monkeypox, Ebola, Marburg, SIV, and tuberculosis.

#5 But politicians in these countries point to the lack of laws in the United States and ask why someone in North Carolina can have a pet monkey or tiger but a Congolese or Brazilian cannot. My hope is that we will set an example for the world for the humane treatment of wild animals - their very survival depends upon it.

And finally and most importantly, the pet trade is an international problem that threaten many species with extinction. Conservationists are trying to stop this trade in developing countries where people kill endangered wild animals to sell as pets at home and abroad. But politicians in these countries point to the lack of laws in the United States and ask why is it wrong and illegal for them to have a chimpanzee as a pet, and if chimpanzees are an endangered animal that should be conserved and protected, wanyone in the USA can order one over the internet with a credit card?

We don't buy and sell people any more. Since chimps and bonobos share 98.7% of our DNA, don't they deserve the same respect?

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