Police in Stamford, Connecticut shot and killed Travis the chimp, a former "animal actor" living with a local couple. The incident began when Travis mauled a woman visiting his owner, then attacked the police called in to contain him. Travis' rampage and death have renewed calls for federal legislation to forbid interstate commerce in primates as pets.
Hartford's WSFB reports that Travis lived as a pet with his 70 year old owner, Sandra Herold. Fifteen years old when he died, Travis previously starred in TV commercials for Old Navy and Coca-Cola. As for Sandra Herold, "[s]he lived for this chimp," a neighbor told WSFB, "[t]his chimp was like her child."
Travis brutally attacked Charla Nash, a friend of Herold's who came over to help calm the chimp down. He had reportedly been agitated all day. Herold had tried to calm him down with Xanax laced tea, but that didn't work.
After a 2003 incident in which Travis leapt from his owner's SUV and held up traffic, Herold told police that Travis was toilet trained, dressed himself, took his own baths, ate at the table and drank wine from stemmed glassware. Police say he also brushed his own teeth, would log onto the internet to look at pictures, and watched TV with a remote control.
The ownership of chimpanzees as pets is governed primarily through differing state and local laws. MSNBC reports that Connecticut now has strict licensing laws governing the ownership of chimpanzees, but they came into effect after the Herold acquired Travis.
Thomas' tragic demise has caused renewed calls for passage of the Captive Primate Safety Act, which would prohibit interstate commerce in primates as pets. According to the Humane Society's press release, last year the legislation passed the House, but the Senate failed to vote on it.
Whether he should have ever been an actor or a pet, Travis' case also highlights the liability that can flow from the actions of one's pet. States have different laws about liability for injuries inflicted by a pet. Some have strict liability, meaning the owner is liable for injuries committed by the pet with very few exceptions (like a trespassing victim or victim who tormented the animal). Though its statute is specific to dogs, Connecticut is an example of a strict liability state.
In other states, to be liable the owner must have had some reason to know about the pet's dangerous propensities. Animal experts say that all chimps pose serious dangers due to the fact that they are wild animals and grow incredibly strong. "They just get too big. They get too strong," animal trainer Keith Bauer told NBC News. "If you've got them at home, it doesn't matter how long you've had them, how much time you've put in with them, they're gonna blow."