One year ago today Travis, a “pet” chimpanzee in Connecticut mauled a woman named Charla Nash and was later fatally shot by police. It was a tragedy that J.B. eloquently wrote about in this blog post: The True Nature of Chimpanzees.
Just a few days ago, a volunteer at a facility in Florida was attacked by a young chimpanzee. Best known as Chimp Farm, the facility operated as a roadside attraction for decades and was famous for chimpanzees trained to box with humans. Chimp Farm was shut down by the USDA in 1999. After making improvements to the housing for the animals, and putting the days of boxing chimpanzees behind them, they reopened a few years ago as Suncoast Primate Sanctuary. Though it’s difficult to parse out the facts from all of the media coverage about the attack, it does seem clear that the chimpanzee, Shawn, escaped her enclosure because those working that day, including the woman who was attacked, did not properly secure and double check the enclosure. In a statement to the press, the volunteer stressed how important it is to follow proper procedure so that escapes do not occur due to human error.
It can be frustrating that these are the stories about chimpanzees that seem to catch the attention of the major media, while there are so many positive stories out there. Chimpanzees are being migrated from a former laboratory to the Save the Chimps sanctuary islands. The Center of Great Apes is expanding to rescue more chimpanzees. And Foxie at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest is rubbing her toes together and kissing a troll doll as construction is completed on the chimps “greenhouse.” But we can try to take advantage of the brief and sensationalized focus on chimp attacks to educate others.
The bottom line is that chimpanzees really do not belong in captivity. That is where the tragedy begins. At CSNW we do our best to provide the chimpanzees with a rich and varied life, but it’s not the life they should be living. The deserve to be swinging from the trees, traveling miles foraging for food, living in large social groups, and making nests out of branches. For so many reasons, they can’t live in the wild, so we’ll continue to provide them the best care possible. And we will always keep in mind J.B.’s words: “if we truly love them [chimpanzees], we need to treat them with the respect they deserve, and that includes respect for their complex nature….they are not meant for our world, any more than we are meant for theirs.”