Chimp attack wins attention of lawmakers

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2009:

Chimp attack wins attention of lawmakers

       WASHINGTON D.C–Boosted by the February 16,  2009 rampage of a longtime pet chimpanzee named Travis in Stamford,  Connecticut, the Captive Primate Safety Act on February 24,  2009 cleared the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 323-95 and returned to the U.S. Senate.
       "The bill will ban interstate commerce in apes,  monkeys, lemurs,  marmosets,  and other nonhuman primates for the pet trade," explained Humane Society Legislative Fund director Mike Markarian. "A number of states and communities already prohibit private ownership of primates as pets,  but the patchwork of local laws and the interstate nature of the primate pet trade call out for a federal response.  The Senate bill passed the Environment and Public Works Committee in July 2008,"  Markarian continued,  "and has been awaiting further action.  Identical legislation  passed the Senate unanimously in 2006."   Charla Nash,  55,  "lost her hands, nose, lips and eyelids and may be blind and suffering brain damage" after Travis attacked her at the home of her friend Sandra Herold,  70," reported Associated Press writer Dave Collins on March 17,  2009. Receiving treatment at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio,  where the first U.S. face transplant surgery was performed,  Nash remained in critical condition.
       Her family has sued Herold,  seeking $50 million in damages.
       Police shot Travis after he attacked a police car,  trying to get at the officers inside.
       Associated Press writer Susan Haigh revealed on March 20, 2009 that a Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection biologist,  whom Haigh did not name,  warned superiors on October 28, 2008 that Herold was keeping Travis in violation of state law.  The biologist concluded "I would like to express the urgency of addressing this issue."
       Travis had previously escaped and run loose through Stamford in 2003.
       However,  the DEP "chose not to enter into what we believed would be a battle to take custody of a local celebrity,"  DEP commissioner Gina McCarthy responded in a written statement to Connecticut legislators.
       The existing Connecticut law forbids keeping a nonhuman primate who will weigh more than 50 pounds at maturity.  The Connecticut general assembly environment committee on March 20,  2009 voted 28-2 to prohibit outright keeping chimpanzees and other potentially dangerous species.
       With the injuries to Nash in the news,  the board of health in Carbon County,  Montana on March 12,  2009 voted unanimously to require chimp keeper Jeanne Rizzotto to "quarantine her two chimps, provide current medical records,  and update their vaccinations.  The board stopped short of ordering Rizzotto to send the primates to a chimp sanctuary,"  reported Linda Halsted Acharya of the Billings Gazette.
       One of Rizzotto's chimps in November 2008 bit a woman who was visiting a neighbor.  Rizzotto claimed someone had tampered with the locks on the chimp's cage.
       The chimps are not Rizzotto's only legal issue.  On March 4, 2009 she accepted a deferred sentence on a felony charge of writing a bad check for $155,000,  contingent on paying a fine of $1,000 and making restitution for the full amount,  Halsted Acharya said.
       Nor are nonhuman primates the only kind of dangerous exotic pet that lawmakers and law enforcement are now wrestling with,  after more than 30 years of warnings from the humane community about the growth of the exotic pet industry.
       For example,  while the Connecticut general assembly considered banning dangerous pets,  a small alligator was captured on March 23,  2009 in South Windsor,  just north of the state capitol in Hartford.
       "The Captive Primate Safety Act is similar to a bill that Congress passed unanimously in 2003,"  Markarian noted,  "prohibiting interstate commerce in tigers, lions,  and other dangerous big cats for the pet trade."
       The Captive Wildlife Protection Act,  also called the Shambala Act after actress Tippi Hedren's Shambala sanctuary near Los Angeles,  appears to have reduced the big cat traffic,  but animals acquired before the law was passed still turn up in bad situations, sanctuaries struggle to accommodate them,  and law enforcement continues to have difficulty preventing recidivism by big cat keepers who are repeatedly cited for violations.
       The Detroit Zoo on March 22,  2009 announced that three African lions kept since 1995 by Jeffrey Harsh of Oakley,  Kansas, had cleared health checks,  and would be coming to the zoo within a few more days.  Two tigers kept by Harsh at a facility he called the Prairie Cat Animal Refuge will be sent to the Carnivore Preservation Trust in North Carolina.  Harsh is divesting of the big cats to avoid charges in connection with injuries suffered by one of his employees. "Bradley Jeff Buchanan,  who was apparently under the influence according to law enforcement authorities,  for some reason stuck his arm in one of the cages and was bitten,"  summarized Mike Corn of the Hays Daily News.
       Also on March 22,  2009 the USDA confiscated two tigers and a lion,  reportedly not properly fed in weeks,  from North Texas wildlife exhibitor Marcus Cook. The animals were taken to the In-Sync Exotic Wildlife Rescue and Education Center in Wylie.
       "The sudden addition is a strain for the Wylie center,  which is already reeling from slumping donations,"  reported Jonathan Betz of WFAA-TV.
       Cook,  a former police officer,  quit that job in 1997 "because of concerns about his credibility,"  the Dallas Morning News reported.  Cook subsequently ran into trouble in connection with exotic cat exhibition.  ANIMAL PEOPLE detailed his history in 2002. Animals in his custody later injured people on at least three occasions.  In 2007 four white tiger cubs died in his care.  Texas and Florida have charged Cook with animal handling offenses,  and he has also been investigated at least twice in Minnesota.

Merritt Clifton
P.O. Box 960
Clinton,  WA  98236

Telephone:  360-579-2505
Fax:  360-579-2575

[ANIMAL PEOPLE is the leading independent newspaper providing original investigative coverage of animal protection worldwide, founded in 1992.  Our readership of 30,000-plus includes the decision-makers at more than 10,000 animal protection organizations. We have no alignment or affiliation with any other entity.  $24/year; for free sample,  send address.]

The Primate Safety Act is an important law to get passed for the big cats too.  It fixes some former issues with the Captive Wild Animal Safety Act and makes them enforceable in prohibiting the sale and transport of big cats across state lines.

For the cats,

Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL  33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457

Sign our petition to protect tigers from being farmed here:

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