Born Free USA Blog
Okay, two things potentially wrong with the title of this blog.
One is that I wasn’t actually on vacation. I was in Cancun, Mexico for a meeting related to international wildlife trade. Lots of work and an occasional margarita to ease the pain of being that close to the beach and never setting foot on the sand. BUT ... plenty of other people in Cancun were without a doubt there just for leisure.
The other is the word “stupidity.” I’m never quite sure whether referring to someone as stupid implies maliciousness – that is, are they mean-spirited and callous or just uninformed?
So on Sunday, just before getting in a cab for the airport, Will Travers and I are walking along discussing the work that has to be done in the week to come when we both get home and there they are. A middle-aged man in shorts, shirt unbuttoned and wide open, and Coco ... a 24-year-old female chimpanzee.
The tanned fellow barked lots of orders at Coco. “Get your sock”; “say hello”; “come here”; “go there”; “give her a hug”; “smile” ... you get the idea.
And about a dozen of gawking (stupid?) tourists just stood around admiring the animal, cameras clicking away, trying to get in just the right position to be close — but not too close — and to get a nice picture of a chimpanzee! An endangered species in the wild. An animal they most likely wouldn’t otherwise see up close ... and surely not be able to touch.
Stupid. Stupid to have a chimpanzee in captivity. Stupid to have a chimpanzee walking across busy streets in a resort town in Mexico. Stupid to have a wild animal hug you. Stupid to not have laws in every country on the planet prohibiting such ... well ... such stupidity!
Ironically, four days prior to this ill-fated encounter, a story ran in the Billings Gazette that a “pet” chimpanzee had bitten a woman in Montana. We do like play Russian Roulette with wildlife, don’t we?
The bottom line is that I understand the human fascination with being up close to an exotic animal. I just don’t get how anyone could be so stupid as to risk getting bitten by one. But then again, maybe it’s not that malicious, uncaring stupidity. Maybe it’s that they truly don’t know any better. They don’t know the risk. They don’t know the cruelty involved in keeping exotic animals as “pets” and parading them around for photographs.
And that makes our work at Born Free USA united with API all the more important: end stupid animal encounters everywhere they occur. I just have to decide now whether to start in Billings or Cancun ...