Chimpanzees: Cuddly Pals or Vicious Killers?

Megan Freeman

Chimpanzees are humans’ closest relatives.  They act like us, they look like us—some people more than others—their DNA is almost 98 percent similar to ours.  Unfortunately, that means that chimps, like humans, can inherit the psycho killer gene and go stark raving mad.  Still, somehow, people seem to enjoy keeping these wild animals as pets.  That never ends well.
Take Sandra Herold for example, a 70-year-old Connecticut woman who adopted her pet chimp Travis from a chimp sanctuary in Festus, Missouri when he was only three days old.  She treated him like a son: dressed him up, took baths with him, slept in the same bed, let him use the computer and TV.  She even let him drive the car sometimes.
Travis’s usually docile behavior took a turn for the worse when he bit a woman’s hand in 1996.  The community forgave him though, and the episode was quickly forgotten.
In 2003, Travis caused a more memorable incident when riding in the backseat of his car.  Something flew through the window and hit him in the face.  Enraged, the chimp unbuckled his seatbelt, jumped out the door and tore across the intersection in search of what hit him.  Police arrived and took several hours to recapture the deranged monkey.  Neighbors became more wary of Travis after this, but they never expected what happened six years later.
One afternoon in February 2009, Mrs. Herold noticed that Travis was acting more aggressive than usual, so she fed him some prescription anti-anxiety pills called Xanax, and had him wash them down with his daily glass of wine.  For some strange reason, and I can’t imagine why, stuffing him full of alcohol and medication did not calm Travis down, and he proceeded to rampage around the back yard.  Herold panicked and called her friend Charla Nash to help her get Travis back in the house.  Maybe it was because he was hopped up on Xanax, maybe it was the wine, or maybe he was just angry, but Travis went absolutely berserk and attacked Nash.  Herold called the police who came to the scene and killed Travis to free Nash.  Nobody mourned for long.  Nash left the scene in an ambulance, blind, noseless, and missing both hands.
On the other end of the spectrum we have everybody’s favorite monkey lady Jane Goodall, who practically lived with chimps for her entire life, and has managed to stay mostly intact.  There was one incident with an aggressive chimp named Frodo who almost broke her neck, but that wasn’t her fault.
The bottom line is that chimps are not suitable companions for people.  They do not like wearing clothes, they do not like being put on leashes, and they do not respond well to Xanax.  If you are considering a pet, how about a nice boa constrictor.  Or a tiger, like that man who kept one in his New York apartment.  But that’s a different story.