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Connecticut biologist raised red flag about Travis the chimp months before his attack

March 20, 2009 |  7:54 pm


April Truitt, who runs the Primate Rescue Center in Lexington, Kentucky, has said she pleaded with Sandra Herold to send Travis the chimpanzee to her sanctuary and warned her about the dangers of keeping a chimp as a pet.

"You don't know my Travis," was Herold's response, according to Truitt.

Today, Connecticut state lawmakers announced that another warning was received long before Travis attacked Herold's friend Charla Nash last month. 

An unnamed Department of Environmental Protection biologist wrote a two-page memo and gave it to senior staff at the agency's Bureau of Natural Resources in October of last year.  "I would like to express the urgency of addressing this issue. It is an accident waiting to happen," the biologist wrote in the note.  The Associated Press reports:

[The memo] was discovered in an ongoing internal agency review prompted by the mauling incident.

"The animal has reached adult maturity, is very large, and tremendously strong," the memo says. "I am concerned that if he feels threatened or if someone enters his territory, he could seriously hurt someone."

The biologist said it was unclear whether the chimp's enclosure was strong enough to secure the animal named Travis, owned by Sandra Herold of Stamford and kept at her home.

The memo also stated that Herold was in violation of state law by keeping Travis. 

Connecticut law at the time of Travis' attack prohibited residents from owning any primate that weighed more than 50 pounds at maturity.  From the Associated Press:

The biologist suggested sending a letter to Herold and informing her of the violation and giving her options on how to comply with state law.

The biologist also raised the possibilities of allowing Herold to keep the animal, but in a stronger enclosure; issuing Herold a permit, which the biologist admitted would be "irresponsible"; giving Herold the choice to relocate Travis; and contacting local police to see if a chimp is permitted by local zoning laws.

The memo also suggested having Travis tranquilized and removed from the home, but the biologist said, "This would be extremely traumatic for everyone involved and riddled with problems."

Ultimately, officials "chose not to enter into what we believed would be a battle to take custody of a local celebrity," DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy said in a letter to legislators.

Earlier this week, Nash's family filed suit against Herold, accusing her of negligence in failing to prevent the chimp's attack.  The lawsuit described Nash's injuries as severe and including the loss of both her hands, her nose and lips.  A website set up to accept financial contributions for her care said it will be "a while before the full extent of her injuries will be known."

Travis was shot and killed by police.

--Lindsay Barnett

Photo: April Truitt feeds a chimpanzee at the Primate Rescue Center. 

Credit: James Crisp / Associated Press.

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