Chimp attack wins attention of lawmakers
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2009:
WASHINGTON D.C–Boosted by the February 16, 2009 rampage of
a longtime pet chimpanzee named Travis in Stamford, Connecticut,
the Captive Primate Safety Act on February 24, 2009 cleared the U.S.
House of Representatives by a vote of 323-95 and returned to the U.S.
“The bill will ban interstate commerce in apes, monkeys,
lemurs, marmosets, and other nonhuman primates for the pet trade,”
explained Humane Society Legislative Fund director Mike Markarian.
“A number of states and communities already prohibit private
ownership of primates as pets, but the patchwork of local laws and
the interstate nature of the primate pet trade call out for a federal
response. The Senate bill passed the Environment and Public Works
Committee in July 2008,” Markarian continued, “and has been
awaiting further action. Identical legislation passed the Senate
unanimously in 2006.” Charla Nash, 55, “lost her hands, nose,
lips and eyelids and may be blind and suffering brain damage” after
Travis attacked her at the home of her friend Sandra Herold, 70,”
reported Associated Press writer Dave Collins on March 17, 2009.
Receiving treatment at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, where the first
U.S. face transplant surgery was performed, Nash remained in
Her family has sued Herold, seeking $50 million in damages.
Police shot Travis after he attacked a police car, trying to
get at the officers inside.
Associated Press writer Susan Haigh revealed on March 20,
2009 that a Connect-icut Department of Environmental Protection
biologist, whom Haigh did not name, warned superiors on October 28,
2008 that Herold was keeping Travis in violation of state law. The
biologist concluded “I would like to express the urgency of
addressing this issue.”
Travis had previously escaped and run loose through Stamford in 2003.
However, the DEP “chose not to enter into what we believed
would be a battle to take custody of a local celebrity,” DEP
commissioner Gina McCarthy responded in a written statement to
The existing Connecticut law forbids keeping a nonhuman
primate who will weigh more than 50 pounds at maturity. The
Connecticut general assembly environment committee on March 20, 2009
voted 28-2 to prohibit outright keeping chimpanzees and other
potentially dangerous species.
With the injuries to Nash in the news, the board of health
in Carbon County, Montana on March 12, 2009 voted unanimously to
require chimp keeper Jeanne Rizzotto to “quarantine her two chimps,
provide current medical records, and update their vaccinations. The
board stopped short of ordering Rizzotto to send the primates to a
chimp sanctuary,” reported Linda Halsted Acharya of the Billings
One of Rizzotto’s chimps in November 2008 bit a woman who was
visiting a neighbor. Rizzotto claimed someone had tampered with the
locks on the chimp’s cage.
The chimps are not Rizzotto’s only legal issue. On March 4,
2009 she accepted a deferred sentence on a felony charge of writing a
bad check for $155,000, contingent on paying a fine of $1,000 and
making restitution for the full amount, Halsted Acharya said.
Nor are nonhuman primates the only kind of dangerous exotic
pet that lawmakers and law enforcement are now wrestling with, after
more than 30 years of warnings from the humane community about the
growth of the exotic pet industry.
For example, while the Connecticut general assembly
considered banning dangerous pets, a small alligator was captured on
March 23, 2009 in South Windsor, just north of the state capitol in
“The Captive Primate Safety Act is similar to a bill that
Congress passed unanimously in 2003,” Markarian noted, “prohibiting
interstate commerce in tigers, lions, and other dangerous big cats
for the pet trade.”
The Captive Wildlife Protection Act, also called the
Shambala Act after actress Tippi Hedren’s Shambala sanctuary near Los
Angeles, appears to have reduced the big cat traffic, but animals
acquired before the law was passed still turn up in bad situations,
sanctuaries struggle to accommodate them, and law enforcement
continues to have difficulty preventing recidivism by big cat keepers
who are repeatedly cited for violations.
The Detroit Zoo on March 22, 2009 announced that three
African lions kept since 1995 by Jeffrey Harsh of Oakley, Kansas,
had cleared health checks, and would be coming to the zoo within a
few more days. Two tigers kept by Harsh at a facility he called the
Prairie Cat Animal Refuge will be sent to the Carnivore Preservation
Trust in North Carolina. Harsh is divesting of the big cats to avoid
charges in connection with injuries suffered by one of his employees.
“Bradley Jeff Buchanan, who was apparently under the influence
according to law enforcement authorities, for some reason stuck his
arm in one of the cages and was bitten,” summarized Mike Corn of the
Hays Daily News.
Also on March 22, 2009 the USDA confiscated two tigers and a
lion, reportedly not properly fed in weeks, from North Texas
wildlife exhibitor Marcus Cook. The animals were taken to the In-Sync
Exotic Wildlife Rescue and Education Center in Wylie.
“The sudden addition is a strain for the Wylie center, which
is already reeling from slumping donations,” reported Jonathan Betz
Cook, a former police officer, quit that job in
1997 “because of concerns about his credibility,” the Dallas Morning
News reported. Cook subsequently ran into trouble in connection with
exotic cat exhibition. ANIMAL PEOPLE detailed his history in 2002.
Animals in his custody later injured people on at least three
occasions. In 2007 four white tiger cubs died in his care. Texas
and Florida have charged Cook with animal handling offenses, and he
has also been investigated at least twice in Minnesota.