Chimpanzee Attack Victim Can’t Sue State for Damages

In 2009, unconditional love turned into tragedy for Travis, a 14 year-old Chimpanzee, his adoring guardian, Sandra Herold, and her dear friend Carla Nash.

Sandra and Jerome Herold, a Connecticut couple, adopted Travis when he was only three days old, taking him home as their beloved pet. The baby chimpanzee quickly became their constant companion, even taking him to work at their towing company. Travis often posed for photographs dressed up in a baseball uniform and greeted the town’s police officers from towing cars. He was featured on American televisions shows and commercials, and was a guest on the Maury Povich Show.

But no matter how much exposure to human handling Travis was subjected to, he was never “tame.”  The “lovable” chimpanzee only became socialized, and obeyed his owners carefully. He dressed himself, used keys to open doors, joined the family at the table for meals, looked at pictures of himself on the computer, watched baseball on TV with a remote, and occasionally drove a car. He even fed hay to his guardians’ horses.

After her husbands death from cancer in 2004 and her son’s death in an auto accident, Travis became Sandra’s “only” child, whom she pampered and let sleep with her in her bed.

While he was a tad mischievous, as a young chimpanzee Travis was considered a docile and well behaved “pet.” But after puberty adult male chimpanzees often become extremely aggressive and behave violently. Travis began exhibiting episodes of fractious and frightening behavior which may have troubled Sandra.

Perhaps Sandra was nervous about putting Travis in his cage. Perhaps that’s the reason Carla Nash went to Sandra’s home to help return the 200 pound 14 year-old chimpanzee back into his cage. But when she approached him he attacked her so ferociously, that she was blinded and lost both hands. Sandra tried desperately to stop the attack with a knife and shovel using lethal force, then finally called 9-1-1- for help. Travis was shot and killed by a police officer after escaping from the house.

Nash’s injuries were so extensive they required a series of costly surgeries to repair her disfigured face. She won a $4 million settlement from the estate after Sandra’s death in 2010. According to the Huffington Post, Nash was recently denied permission to sue the state of Connecticut for $150 million on her claim that officials knew the chimpanzee was a dangerous animal, but took no action to protect the public.

The state’s motion disapproving Nash’s claim was released by the Claims commissioner in a five page decision, saying that at the time the law permitted private chimpanzee ownership and therefore didn’t require officials to seize legal animals. An approval banning chimpanzees and other animals deemed dangerous was passed a few months after Nash’s attack by state lawmakers.

While lions, tigers and other large exotic animals may be cute and cuddly as babies, these powerful wild animals are potentially dangerous and should never be considered pets. These animals belong running unencumbered in their native habitats. Wild abused or abandoned animals belong in accredited, licensed sanctuaries where they receive the appropriate support by highly trained expert caretakers.

What do you think draws humans with little or no experience to try to tame wild exotic animals to make them into pets? Share your opinion in a comment.