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.

 

 

 

Reader Comments

MORE BLOGS

An Explorer’s Guide To The Great Indoors: Hotels Designed For ‘Adventurers’

During decades of traipsing through the wilderness I’ve slept, or attempted to sleep, in every conceivable indoor and outdoor quarters: in freshly dug snow caves; alongside bug-infested swamps; during thunderstorms with no tent; in the...

Alligators, Gorillas, Bears, Snakes, Even Cows: Danger Lurks Where You Least Expect It

The awful story this week about a 2-year-old boy who witnesses said was pulled by an alligator into a lagoon near a Walt Disney World hotel in Orlando, Florida and later found dead serves as a reminder that danger lurks even in "The...

This Bud’s For You: The Unofficial King Of Beer Litter

While kayaking the other morning I spotted a small, dark object poking above the lake surface 100 yards or so ahead, and I was pretty sure it was the head of a turtle until I drew closer and realized the sad truth: just another beer...

Chaotic Fun At The Essex River Race

Shortly before the start of the late-great Rose Arts Road Race several years ago, a 10.47-mile running competition over the hills of Norwich considered one of New England’s toughest courses, my friend Bob and I decided to jog a couple miles...

Tom And Steve’s Excellent Adventures In The Northwest Part III: Kayaking Off The Oregon Coast And Columbia River Gorge; Hiking On Mount Saint Helens

Propelled by the sound of crashing surf, my son Tom and I scrambled over a low dune and then gazed in awe.

A Connecticut Yankee In The Northwest Part II: A Cross-Country Ski Adventure, Of Sorts, At Oregon's Crater Lake

Lugging back-country skis and poles on our shoulders, my son Tom and I trudged along the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway at Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park, searching for a section of road that had not been plowed.

A Connecticut Yankee In The Northwest: Stunning Views, Adventures On Land And Water (Part I)

As I clambered toward the crest of the Mist Trail in California’s Yosemite National Park a couple weeks ago, spray from the thunderous Nevada Fall washed over me, but I was already soaked, with sweat, after gaining nearly 2,000 feet of...

Vacations From Hell: At Least They’re Memorable

Just between us, don’t you hate it when friends or coworkers post photos on Facebook of awesome journeys to exotic destinations – or if they’re really old-school, send postcards depicting glorious sunsets, sparkling lakes,...

In Stride With Women Runners: Amby Burfoot Celebrates Their History In A New Book

Back in the Dark Ages when I was growing up, one of the worst insults an adolescent male could hurl at one of his buddies was, "You run like a girl!"

Danger, Swan Attack! Quick, Wring Its Neck!

It’s difficult to imagine a more outrageous example of idiotic government overreaction than this week’s incident involving a mute swan on Five Mile Pond in Danielson, which would almost be laughable if the outcome weren’t so...

The Parable Of The Rope: An Icy Mountain Drama In New Hampshire's Carter Notch

With a blustery breeze making the 8-degree temperature feel as if were a few notches below zero, our group didn’t intend to dawdle while scrambling back to civilization. The mountain hut where we spent the night had been so frigid my boots...

Over The Falls! A Salmon River Adventure

You know that feeling when you’re about to attempt something adventurous that at first seemed it would be fun, but then doubts about your safety and sanity crept in? Oh no! Too late!

There's No Such Thing As Too Much Garlic

A few years ago, while visiting relatives in Canada, I noticed a giant basket of produce in a corner of the kitchen. "Wow! Where’d you get all that garlic?" I asked.