Chimpanzees Should Never Be Pets!

They occasionally signed a few words to each other, although Byrne had often said that sign language was irrelevant to their relationship. From time to time Byrne believed that their discussions, however they communicated, verged on the philosophical. It was as if Nim was questioning Byrne, asking him over and over, “Why am I here? Why am I locked in this cage?” Byrne had thought seriously about the answer to that question. He concluded that Nim was not asking to escape but making a more poignant comment on the injustice of his captivity. – from Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human
I have been without DSL for the last couple of days – according to the repairman it is because squirrels and telephone wires do not mix. The problem was fixed earlier today. In catching up one of the posts I noticed was an excellent post, by Sheril Kirshenbaum, on keeping chimpanzees as pets (I hope this post means Sheril is feeling better).

Sheril makes a number of good points and I wood like to look at a couple. Her first point is that chimps are wild animals that, increasingly, behave like wild animals as they get older. Chimp behavior is quite a bit different from human behavior and inevitably the two will come into conflict. Humans, as primates go, are under muscled compared to other primates. In theory this means that it takes more than one human to “control” a chimps behavior. In practice this means that by the time you realize you have a problem it’s too late. Part of the problem is that most people who get wild animals as pets really don’t a clue about their animals behavior and don’t pick up on the warning signs. All too frequently, as in the case Sheril mentions, the owners are lackadaisical in allowing others, with even less knowledge, to interact with their animal. Relatively innocuous ques, behavior that you or I take notice of, can be triggers for, for what we would consider problem behavior. Even on a less aggressive level a 60 pound chimp (at that weight they are already stronger than a human) holding on to your guest’s leg for life, dear life, is a serious problem. Not so much because of the holding as getting the chimp to let go. Those who truly understand the behavior of animals they love work in zoos or as conservation biologists (or similar professions) because they know that wild animals belong in the wild.
Sheril raises a more important point when she says:

And finally and most importantly, the pet trade is an international problem that threaten many species with extinction. Conservationists are trying to stop this trade in developing countries where people kill endangered wild animals to sell as pets at home and abroad.

This brings me to the quote I used to open this post. It is from a book I reviewed back in June. Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human is the heartbreaking story of a chimp that was used in the language experiments that were so popular in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. One of the major subtexts of the book is the way chimps are breed and sold in the US – a vile and despicable business – and in what happens when the owners can no longer control their chimps. I strongly recommend it.

6 Responses

  1. You are so right about people not understanding the cues that chimps give — or that they unknowingly give the chimps.
    The tragedy in Connecticut is not so much a problem with the international trade in wild animals, though, as it is with the status of captive-born chimps in this country. Wild-born chimps are protected and cannot be brought into the US. Captive-born chimps have far fewer protections.
    There are people who make a living breeding chimps and using them in (or selling them into) the entertainment industry, where they rake in bucks for their owners for a few years. Little of that money goes to their care. Within 6 to 8 years they are too old for show biz so they are dumped into inappropriate situations. Some are sold (more $$$) to clueless “civilians” who want a special pet.
    I have met chimps who languished for DECADES in little cages in people’s backyards or basements. The ones I met were rescued and taken in by one of the few legitimate ape sanctuaries that can take care of them properly.
    To stop this pet trade, we have to let businesses know that it’s not okay to exploit apes in movies and commercials. Old Navy (and their ad agency) is as much to blame for the incident in Connecticut as the woman who bought Travis to live in her house.

  2. Did you see the woman on the “Today Show” talking about her pet chimpanzee? She’d stabbed him when he attacked her friend, after she raised him as her “son,” she said. But she clearly had no concept of what a chimpanzee was, feeding the animal steak and lobster by her own report, pretending he was human, and had no idea what made him go “berserk,” although she admitted giving him Xanax. Police called to the scene shot him to death. She should never have had this poor ape in her home in the first place. If someone wants to raise a child, they should adopt a human. If they want a pet, they should get a dog or cat, not a wild animal, especially a large, stronge, endangered one!

  3. No, fortunately, I missed it or I would have had to throw something at my TV.

  4. What’s really enraging me are the people who are trying to hijack this story for their own agendas. For example, whining that people who “really” are “responsible” should be allowed to have exotic pets, ignoring the fact that people who are delusion enough to think chimps are hairy little people aren’t the best judges of their own competency. Chimps – not pets. That’s about as simple as it gets, you’d think.
    Then there’s the utterly tasteless rerun of a program on chimp attacks last night on Animal Planet, punctuated by the gag-inducing irony of Pedigree’s new ad campaign, which features people trying to play fetch and all with exotic pets (ostrich, wild boar, etc) then suggesting “Shouldn’t you get a dog?”.
    Personally, I love wild animals, but how can anyone claim to love an animal when they demonstrate that affection by taking it out of its natural habitat and turning it into a toy for their own amusement?

  5. Fetch with a wild boar . . . o . . . kay.
    Some people shouldn’t have dogs, without adult supervision. We have a bad practice of trying to isolate ourselves from the world. Something about being the special creation of this supernatural busybody. The result in this case is people who don’t know animals, and don’t want to learn anything about animals. A blind spot all sorts of people suffer from.
    Fetch with a wild boar . . .
    You know, if you start ’em off young . . .

  6. Hi, I’m trespassing (I usually check in at Pharyngula). Frasque is spot on about people hijacking this story. At my hometown newspaper’s forum, one of the resident gun nuts says this is a reason why we should all have guns in our homes.

    The chimp that attacked its owner’s friend just goes to show the hazards of NOT having a gun around the house.

    If you must see more:

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