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The case of Travis, the chimp shot and killed after attacking a woman, may lead to new wildlife legislation

February 18, 2009 |  2:59 pm

An officer leaves the scene of Monday's chimpanzee attack in Stamford, Connecticut

Travis, the chimpanzee who was shot and killed by Connecticut police following an attack on his owner's friend, was being kept without a permit, according to reports by the Stamford Advocate.

A law passed in Connecticut in 2004 required owners of exotic animals and primates to obtain a permit. The law, intended to regulate the importing of exotic animals, included an exemption for primates weighing less than 50 pounds that were owned as of Oct. 1, 2003.

Travis' owner, Sandra Herold, and her late husband, Jerome, adopted Travis in 1995. He weighed 200 pounds. 

But he was also exempted from state law
because the Department of Environmental Protection "had no compelling evidence there was a public safety risk" and was owned before the law was enacted, department spokesman Dennis Schain told the Advocate. "Our view was they had this thing for so many years before the legislature got into this, we let them keep possession," he said. 

Schain added that the department had never visited the Herolds' home.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal speaks at a news conference in 
his office in Hartford

The group Born Free USA was among those who called on Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell to take steps to pass a blanket ban on keeping primates as pets in the state. "Connecticut already prohibits the keeping of big cats, bears, wolves, coyotes, venomous reptiles, alligators and crocodiles as personal pets. Tragically, this law does not include nonhuman primates," said Nicole G. Paquette of Born Free.

"The owners of these animals are playing Russian roulette with people's lives," Paquette said.

The Humane Society of the United States and two U.S. representatives, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), urged action in the form of passing H.R. 80, the Captive Primate Safety Act, which Blumenauer and Kirk introduced in 2005. It has since passed a House vote and a Senate committee but was not enacted before Congress adjourned, according to Fox News

Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle accused Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) of preventing the act's passage in the Senate. "But for Coburn, a medical doctor, we'd now have a federal law banning the interstate transport of dangerous primates as pets," Pacelle wrote on his blog. "May the obstructionists now finally get out of the way and allow mainstream voices to impose bright-line standards that will prevent this sort of tragedy from unfolding again."

In a news conference today, Connecticut Atty. Gen. Richard Blumenthal called for a ban on exotic animals, including chimps, and increased penalties for illegal possession of exotic animals. The Stamford Advocate reports:

"The problem is that the existing law contains a prohibition on certain potentially dangerous animals, but only a limited group, such as tigers, wolves and bears," Blumenthal said. "Incredibly, any restriction on possession of almost all other potentially dangerous animals is left to the complete discretion of the commissioner of environmental protection without any meaningful legislative guidance and insignificant penalties." ...

DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy also called for a ban, issuing a statement that read, "This case clearly points out the unacceptable risk of people possessing large primates and other exotic animals as pets, even those they may consider tame. Although some people believe large primates make good pets, clearly in light of this incident they are not. Consequently I am recommending that the legislature enact a law to ban the possession of large primates as pets in Connecticut."

Gov. Rell said in an interview that she would be "more than willing" to consider a ban on primates, the Advocate reports.

After more than seven hours of surgery by hand specialists, plastic surgeons and orthopedics, ophthalmology and trauma specialists, 55-year-old attack victim Charla Nash has made some progress, according to the Associated Press.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Top photo: An officer leaves the scene of the chimpanzee attack. Credit: Danielle Robinson / Associated Press.
Bottom photo: Connecticut Atty. Gen. Richard Blumenthal speaks at a news conference in his office in Hartford. Credit: Bob Child / Associated Press.

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