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House votes to approve Captive Primate Safety Act after chimp attack

February 24, 2009 | 11:24 am

Travis the chimpanzee is coaxed to a waiting SUV following an escape in October, 2003. The House of Representatives voted today to approve the Captive Primate Safety Act (HR 80), with 323 lawmakers in favor and 95 opposed.  The bill, which would make it illegal to transport chimpanzees and other primates across state lines for individuals' use as pets, was debated Monday with a vote (initially expected following debate) postponed until today.

The bill's co-sponsor Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said the debate centered on two main points of contention: that regulating primate ownership was not a pressing national issue, and "that it would not stop the ability of some people to have a chimpanzee as a pet in their own home." 

Responding to his colleagues' questions about the importance of the discussion, Blumenauer released a statement that  read in part: "But I tell you, the woman who is in the hospital in Cleveland, who had her face ripped off by a chimpanzee last week would probably think she and her family might be important to deal with.... It's not the most important issue of the world, maybe not, until tragedy strikes your family."

The Associated Press reports on further controversy:

The bill, said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, does nothing to prohibit a monkey from biting, such as in the Connecticut incident, "unless the monkey was willing to chase the woman from Connecticut over to New York State." He compared the 100 attacks over 10 years to the 100,000 people who go to the hospital every year with dog bites.

"I would respectfully suggest that having your face ripped off is not the same as just an animal bite, a nip here or scratch there," Blumenauer said. "We are dealing with animals that have the potential of inflicting serious damage and death." He estimated that up to 400 chimpanzees are kept as pets in the United States.

Travis, the chimp whose vicious attack on family friend Charla Nash made primate pets a national topic of conversation, was born in Missouri and transported to live with his owner Sandra Herold in Connecticut.  "That is exactly the kind of sale that would be prohibited by this legislation," Beth Preiss, director of the Humane Society of the United States' exotic pet campaign, told the Stamford Advocate.

"Make no mistake, this bill will protect our communities and ensure the welfare of these animals," Blumenauer said today.  "The horrific chimpanzee attack in Connecticut last week brought a renewed urgency to this issue and I am pleased with today's long overdue passage of this bill.  Primates are wild animals and should not be regularly transported around the United States and integrated into our communities or our households.  Today we have taken an important step toward the welfare of humans and animals."

Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and David Vitter (R-La.) plan to introduce companion legislation in the Senate this year.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Travis the chimpanzee is coaxed to a waiting SUV after an escape in October 2003.  Credit: Kathleen O'Rourke / Associated Press

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