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

My Favorite Kayak Race: The T.I.A.G.A.T.I.N.M.R. In Rangeley, Maine

Paddling like the dickens last Sunday on Maine’s Rangeley Lake, we competitors had two choices: steer clockwise or counter-clockwise around Maneskootuk Island.

Selden Island: Once A Bustling Quarry, Now A Quiet Haven

More than 40 years ago, Dave Wordell of Salem took his then-10-year-old son, Dave Junior, on a boat ride up Selden Creek, a narrow, secluded tributary of the Connecticut River in Lyme.

Life As A Lumbersexual

I can never remember – do you apply facial cleanser before or after the exfoliating scrub, and then finish up with healing balm and moisturizer, or should you start with the scrub, work your way through the cleanser and then top...

R.I.P. Cecil the Lion: Let's Make the Trophy Hunter an Endangered Species

The international outrage sparked by an American trophy hunter’s killing of Cecil, Zimbabwe’s beloved lion, justifiably vilifies the despicable practice of slaughtering wildlife for sport – but it also exposes the human...

All Who Wander Are Not Lost: Searching For The Elusive South Bog Stream In Rangeley, Maine

"Head for that tree stump," I instructed authoritatively one afternoon earlier this week, as if I knew for sure where we should be heading. I have learned to exude confidence when giving directions on any expedition, even...

Scott Jurek's 'Reward' For Breaking Appalachian Trail Speed Record: Three Summonses

When internationally celebrated speedster Scott Jurek scrambled last Sunday to the 5,269-foot summit of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, he broke the record for the fastest assisted hike of the 2,189-mile...

No Swimming at Seaside: What’s Next? No Hiking at Bluff Point?

Most of the time I’m reasonably scrupulous about abiding by government regulations.

Training For Mystic Sharkfest: The Loneliness Of The Long-Distance Swimmer

Among the many benefits of active recreation is hanging out with friends – which of course you can do at a bar, pizza parlor or coffee shop, but since most of my pals prefer to spend their leisure time on the trail or water, we...

Stung By Wasps AND Suffering From Lyme Disease: I Can't Catch A Break

You know that funny, itchy feeling when something is crawling around or worse, lodged where it doesn’t belong?

Which Is Worse: Getting Devoured By A Grizzly Bear Or A Great White Shark?

During years of roaming hither and yon on land and sea, I’ve been chased by a grizzly bear, nearly trampled by stampeding yaks, charged by a bull, attacked by swarms of hornets and almost struck by a copperhead – but what...

A Whitewater Dream Taking Shape in Willimantic

Asked to name the best whitewater kayaking and canoeing stretches in Connecticut, most paddlers would single out a gnarly, 2.6-mile section of Class IV rapids on the Housatonic River from Bulls Bridge Dam to Gaylordville, or Diana's Pool...

My War With Canada Geese

Years ago I looked forward to autumn, not so much for the kaleidoscopic foliage but because the evening serenade of migrating Canada geese that lulled me to sleep.