But, the attack by Travis was one of only two in the last decade, the other being the attack on the owner of Moe the chimp in 2006. Private ownership of chimps is relatively uncommon, and already illegal in most states. While having chimps as pets is undoubtably dangerous, there are pets that are much, much more dangerous that are still perfectly legal in many states.
Between 1990 and today, 21 people were killed by big cats that were being kept as pets, and maulings by captive big cats have become so common that they rarely make national news anymore. Consider: from January 2008 to present (April 2009), there have been 20 documented maulings of people by large cats being kept as pets (this includes animals being kept in non-accredited or substandard "zoos" and "sanctuaries"). Yet none of them garnered national attention. In October of 2008, a liger (a cross between a tiger and a lion) mauled a keeper to death in front of an audience of attentive pre-schoolers in Oklahoma, at a faux "sanctuary". In November, a sixteen-year-old girl was mauled by a cougar in Miami, requiring two hours of surgery to repair her wounds, and another fifteen year old girl had a finger bitten off by a tiger in Virginia. In December a pet bobcat mauled a store Santa at a photo session at Petsmart. In January a 32-year-old woman was mauled by a jaguar at a private zoo in Maryland, and in February, less than a week after the chimp attack, a lion being kept in a junkyard mangled the arm of a man who attempted to pat it.
A supposedly 'indestructible' ball, after a few weeks with a tiger. Note the cans inside (put there after the ball was removed) for scale, to show the size of this ball. It started off as perfectly smooth, red, hard plastic ball and within weeks was clawed, bitten, and chewed into this condition, by a 'pet' tiger.photo by William Dow
These are not isolated incidents. There have been almost 200 reported maulings of humans by big cats being kept as pets since 1990, and an unknown (but probably quite large) number of maulings that are not reported. Many private owners of these cats lie about their injuries if they need treatment (a breeder of Savannah Cats recently bragged on a message board that he had been severely bitten by his serval, but told the ER personnel that he had gotten tangled in barbed wire) and encourage paying guests to their "zoo" or "sanctuary" not to report any injuries, telling people that if they report their injuries, the animal will be killed.
These animals are not only beautiful, fascinating, intelligent - they are dangerous. They are apex predators, at the top of the food chain, and they are simply not meant to be pets. There is no 'safe way' to keep one as a pet - just because you hand-raise it and love it, does not mean it loves you back. And even if it does, it can kill you with a casual swat intended as play. Worse still, it can kill someone else.
In 2003, actress and animal welfare activist Tippi Hedren co-authored a bill called the Captive Wildlife Safety Act, which passed unanimously and was signed into law, that bans the transfer of exotic cats across state and federal lines by and for private individuals. She has now co-authored a new bill, The Federal Ban to Stop the Breeding of the Exotic Felines for Personal Possession, which will make it illegal for private individuals to breed exotic cats (accredited zoos and other legitimate institutions are exempt from the proposed law). These two laws combined have the potential to put a serious dent in the pet trade in exotic felines. Please write to your congressman and senators in support of this incredibly important bill, which will introduced in May, so write now! (Click on the link below to find contact information for your representatives in government.)
Watch this space next week for more information on Tippi Hedren and her work on behalf of animals everywhere!