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Born Free USA Blog

Born Free USA Blog

Death: a bad way to start the day

Published 02/18/09
By Zibby Wilder, Director of Public Relations

When I opened my email Tuesday morning to reports of the mauling of a Connecticut woman and policeman by a chimpanzee — and the subsequent death by stabbing and shooting of the chimpanzee, named Travis — I knew the day would not be a good one.

After all, what good can a day bring when people are still allowed to, with ALL we know, keep these endangered — and extremely dangerous — animals in their homes as “pets”? (Not to mention, in Connecticut, big cats, bears, wolves, crocodiles, and venomous reptiles are banned as pets — um, hello?)

What good can a day bring when media reports say a wild animal being kept and used so inappropriately, acted out because he had Lyme disease, rather than noting the reality: this was a frightened wild animal who probably thought he was fighting for his life? (Not to mention this was a wild animal with perhaps four to five times the strength of an adult male human!)

What good can a day bring when people are still treating chimpanzees as “funny things” for us to laugh at in movies and on TV rather than being treated as wild animals from Africa that would normally live in close family groups with strong social bonds? (Not to mention the fact that these families are rapidly being decimated by human greed?)

What good can a day bring when, despite the evidence we continue to have absolutely no respect for our closest evolutionary siblings — chimpanzees share 98.76% of our DNA and are more closely related to humans than they are to gorillas?

Not to mention, the one note from the day I did agree with was the quote from Captain Conklin of the Stamford, CT, police department: “It’s a modern day tragedy.”

It’s a modern day tragedy that Travis’s owner, 70 year-old Sandra Herold, had to stab him repeatedly with a knife after she gave him a cocktail of tea laced with Xanax because he was acting “agitated.”

I feel for the woman, but it’s a modern day tragedy that she had Travis at all.

The tragedy is that thousands (perhaps more — no one knows) of primates are sitting in cages — and apparently in cages in people’s homes — across this country, waiting and waiting and waiting ... for some semblance of release.

We use them in medical research, we’ve shot them to into space (note: and even with this article still seem to find somehow entertaining), we beat them to perform, and still, we can’t find it in our hearts to give them the one small thing they need and deserve most — to just be.

I’ll stop now because I really think I could go on forever. I feel so strongly about this terrible, completely preventable, tragedy for a variety of personal reasons. I’ll share them to perhaps lead to a greater understanding:

First, as a compassionate person, a little piece of my heart dies when someone is hurt by an animal. I feel greatly for every person involved in this horrible event and I hope that the woman who was hurt so badly recovers completely — and quickly.

Second, another piece of my heart dies when a wild animal is killed because he or she unintentionally hurt someone. Not one ounce of blame can be placed on Travis — imagine his horror.

Third, I suffer from Lyme disease and I know all about the physical pain and medical confusion of the symptoms it presents.

Fourth, I have a degree in psychology so I know a little bit about drugs like Xanax — enough to know using an anti-anxiety drug such as Xanax to treat Lyme symptoms is ... how should I put it ... highly questionable?

And fifth, I serve on the board of a chimpanzee sanctuary which recently gave a home to seven chimpanzees; some used in entertainment for a while, some stolen from the wild as babies, but all ultimately subjected to medical experiments for years. It’s a horrible Cinderella story that I am thrilled to be a part of as an individual — and ashamed to be part of as one of their “sisters” who ultimately did this to them in the first place.

Can we please do this one thing to make every day for all of us primates better? The answer to this question is YES, and the solution is all too simple. I need not explain more.



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