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Primatologist Jane Goodall speaks out about chimpanzee attack

February 26, 2009 |  1:12 pm

Jane Goodall

World-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall is speaking out on the recent tragedy involving Travis, the Connecticut chimp who attacked his owner's friend and was subsequently shot and killed by police.  Travis' case, Goodall says, should serve as a potent reminder that chimps -- no matter how human they may seem -- are not cut out to be pets. 

Travis wore clothes and even shared a bed with his owner, but "as the tragedy made clear, a chimpanzee can never be totally domesticated," says Goodall, who has been studying primate interaction since 1960, in a recent L.A. Times opinion piece.  And a big part of the problem, Goodall says, is the way chimps are portrayed on television, in movies and in advertising:

Only a month ago, Americans watching the Super Bowl may have laughed at an ad in which chimpanzees dressed as mechanics worked on a car. They seemed cute, funny and even lovable. Is it any wonder viewers might think that chimpanzees would make great pets?

Nothing could be further from the truth. Only infant chimpanzees are used in entertainment and advertising, because as they approach maturity, at about 6 to 8 years of age, they become strong and unmanageable. Chimpanzees evolved in the tropical forests of Africa, and that's where they're suited to live, roaming in groups of their own kind. A house in Connecticut was a completely alien environment for a chimp.

Using chimps in entertainment, Goodall says, is also problematic because "it makes it hard for people to believe that these apes are actually endangered in the wild." 

The problems these animals face in the wild are severe and numerous, she explains:

Chimpanzees are losing habitat, in part because of commercial logging and in part because of encroachment by ever-growing human populations who live in poverty and cut down the forest to grow crops and graze cattle. This deforestation also contributes significantly to climate change. And sometimes chimpanzees are caught up in ethnic conflicts or killed for their meat, a practice that is believed to have led to the human strains of HIV.

The Connecticut tragedy should remind us not just that chimpanzees do not make good pets but that their fate is intimately tied to ours.

For more information, see Jane Goodall's full opinion piece and the sections Chimpanzees don't make good pets and Chimpanzees in entertainment of her website.

Do you agree with Goodall that the way chimps are portrayed in the public media is harmful to the species?

Travis the chimp killed by police after attacking woman
Travis' case may lead to new wildlife legislation
House votes to approve Captive Primate Safety Act

--Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Goodall visits Sydney's Taronga Zoo in July 2006 to observe the extended family of 19 chimpanzees.  Credit: Greg Wood /AFP/Getty Images

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