Gibbon expert educates people about the difference between wild animals and pets.
In light of a recent near-fatal attack by a chimpanzee in
, Congress acted swiftly in passing the Captive Primate Safety Act, which will prohibit people from buying or transporting primates across state lines to keep them as pets.
The Humane Society of the
enthusiastically approved the bill, hoping it will discourage greedy traffickers who move the animals across state lines.
Last week, Charla Nash, 55, suffered severe trauma to her face, scalp and hands after her neighbor’s pet chimpanzee, Travis, mauled her in
. Travis was a former working chimp, having appeared in commercials for Old Navy and Coca Cola several years ago. Since then, Travis had been a pet of Sandra Herold, who treated the primate as a companion rather than a wild animal.
Alan Mootnick, of the
says that no matter how cute and cuddly animals may be when they’re small, wild animals are still wild animals. He said that primates mirror human lives for a short time, but nature gives them strength and shorts them on reasoning.
“For the first few years of their lives, they are fine, but then depending on how they are raised, especially if they never see another gibbon, they really can become pretty crazy when they become older. If you raise it as a human, that’s what they think they are.
“The thing about it is that they are a wild animal,” Mootnick said. “We can’t communicate with them like we could a human who speaks the same language. When they are immature, the primate is very loving, we’re nurturing the animals and they look to us as parents. Teens are very testy, they want to see what they can get away with, then they get testosterone and want to prove themselves. They look at you as an equal and you’re in their territory, so they get confused.
“When they are upset with you, they will tell you by biting you,” he said. “And because you can’t defend yourself like they can, because they are so much stronger than us, you get injured.”
Mootnick has 33 gibbons on his
compound upBouquet Canyon Road
. Volunteers on the facility adhere to strict regulations so as not to brand the gibbons with human traits, they are instructed to let go if they feel a monkey grasping their hands.
“They are wild animals; it hurts them to have their behavior altered,” he said. “They should be left alone.”
Mootnick said that legislation is overdue, but not surprising in light of the recent events. He said that the bad things that happen in incidents such as the attack in
usually bring about something good, such as more legislative support.
With the large number of working animals in the Santa Clarita Valley, it’s important to note that they should be treated humanely, but not considered pets.
Working animals are usually retired, they’re used for breeding or housed in an enclosure with or without other animals,” he explained. “Once a great ape is about 5 or 6 years of age, they get unmanageable and it’s dangerous to take them to movie sets. They have strength six times that of a human; if you have a 100-pound chimpanzee, they are as strong as a 600-pound weightlifter.”
The legislation also addresses public safety and health concerns. It moves to the Senate, where California Senator Barbara Boxer is expected to lead the effort to get it passed.