Chimps on the Loose: Why I Skip Zoos

You may have seen the video of seven chimpanzees that escaped the Kansas City Zoo the other day after the ringleader broke off a 6-foot-long tree branch that he then used to scale a wall.

The wily primate quickly motioned to his pals, who followed him up the makeshift ladder to freedom.

The chimps cavorted along the wall — apparently far enough away from zoo visitors to prevent a panic — for about 90 minutes before staff lured them back into their enclosure with malted milk balls.

I’m glad no humans or animals were injured, though I’m a little disappointed the chimps fell for such a simple trick. I can only imagine what was going through their heads at the time:

“Free! We’re free! Yippee! At last, we can go wherever we want, whenever we want ... ooooh, candy! Hey guys, check it out! Chocolate!...”

A zoo veterinarian I’ve met once remarked that of all the animals she deals with in captivity, including lions, tigers and cheetahs, the ones she fears most are chimpanzees because they’re not just powerful and nimble, but also maliciously clever.

Like most TV viewers and movie fans I used to chuckle at the antics of such “celebrity” chimps as Cheetah of “Tarzan” fame; J. Fred Muggs, a mascot on the “Today” show; and all the others that appeared regularly in commercials, sitcoms and on the big screen, performing silly stunts that alternately delighted or exasperated human co-stars, including Ronald Reagan in “Bedtime for Bonzo” and Clint Eastwood in

“Every Which Way but Loose.”

The humor gradually lost its charm, and then forever soured after the horrific Travis tragedy in 2009 when a former chimp actor kept as a pet by a misguided Stamford woman went on a rampage, ripping the face and hands off a visitor before police shot and killed it.

The disfigured woman, Charla Nash, who received a face transplant but remains blind, eventually reached a $4 million settlement with the estate of Travis’s owner, Sandra Herold, who died in 2010.

This horrible story refuses to go away. Last month Nash asked Connecticut lawmakers to overturn a prior ruling, thus allowing her to sue Connecticut for $150 million, claiming state officials didn’t

adequately enforce laws governing wild animals.

I’m not going to get into the debate over whether Nash should be entitled to sue for more damages, except to remark that the entire debacle further underscores the folly and potential peril of keeping wild animals in captivity.

Loyal readers are familiar with my abhorrence of zoos and wild animal parks, from which predatory creatures are repeatedly escaping or turning on their captors/trainers.

Every so often, though, these institutions do something so unbelievably stupid and offensive it confounds explanation.

Such was the case not long ago when a veterinarian at the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark shot and killed one of its giraffes (it even had a name, Marius), and then dismembered the creature in front of an audience that included children and fed it to lions, tigers and leopards while horrified spectators gawked.

They also left the spotted skin on the animal so it looked as if the hungry cats were devouring Geoffrey from Toys R Us.

Then, as if zoo officials convened and decided, “You know, that giraffe episode turned out to be a real public relations debacle. Let’s see if we can make people hate us even more,” they killed four lions to make room for a new male.

Zoos pride themselves, or at least attempt to justify their existence, by claiming to be educational institutions devoted to animal preservation. I will give them this much: They are educational. They’ve taught me never to visit one again.




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