In February 2009, Charla Nash, a 55-year-old woman was visiting her friend Sandra Herold in Stamford, Connecticut, when Herold’s pet chimp, Travis, suddenly attacked her. The crazed chimp tore off Nash’s nose, lips and eyelids before being shot dead by cops. Nash was left with no face or hands and is now suing Herold for $50 million. Nash appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show this week and bravely revealed what remains of her face.
This was clearly a terrible accident, and I feel horribly for Ms. Nash. But I also feel bad for Travis, who should never have been a pet to begin with. Chimpanzees are known to possess incredible strength, with the average adult male having four to five times the upper-body strength of an adult human. They are also very difficult pets. They typically act aggressively toward their owners when they reach adulthood, and once raised by humans, they cannot be re-introduced into the wild because other chimpanzees will reject them.
In a telephone interview, Nash said she repeatedly warned Herold that Travis was dangerous and could hurt someone. Nash said she saw Travis throw large objects around his cage, flash his teeth, and pound the bars of the cage so violently his hands would bleed. Herold refused to get rid of him in fear that he would not get treated as well in another home.
A police officer stated that he believed Travis may have had Lyme disease, a tick-borne bacterial infection that in rare cases has been linked to psychosis, severe anxiety and delusional behavior. Just before the incident, his owner gave him tea laced with Xanax in an attempt to calm him down. Whether or not Travis had Lyme disease, this incident serves as a painful reminder of what can happen when humans keep wild animals as pets. These animals may be highly intelligent and capable of learning many human behaviors, but they are still wild beings that should be treated cautiously and respectfully.