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House approves ban on interstate primate sales

After a 200-pound pet chimpanzee mauled a woman in Stamford, Conn., many people wondered how the animal, Travis, came to be living a suburban existence.  But it could become tougher for chimps and other primates to move to the 'burbs if legislation passed by the House yesterday becomes law.

Lawmakers, by a 323-to-95 margin, passed the Captive Primate Safety Act, which is designed to keep primates (read: humans) from owning other primates by banning the interstate sale or purchase of monkeys, apes, orangutans, marmosets and lemurs. Soon after his birth in 1995, Travis was transported from Missouri to his home in Stamford, according to the Hartford Courant, where he last week attacked a 55-year-old woman who had been visiting his owner. Police called to the scene shot Travis to death; his victim is being evaluated at the Cleveland Clinic, which specializes in reconstructive surgery, for massive trauma to her face and hands.

"Images of Curious George and Koko may lead us to believe that these creatures are cuddly and harmless," bill co-sponsor Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said during consideration of the measure. "But last week's tragedy and other similar attacks stand as evidence that this is not the case — that they are in fact wild animals and they simply must not be kept as pets."

In an editorial today praising the vote, the New York Times notes that 20 states ban chimps as pets, but that there's no federal law prohibiting the practice. According to the newspaper, there may be as many as 15,000 primate pets in the U.S. The legislation wouldn’t outlaw chimp pets per se, but it could make it more difficult for people to obtain the animals.

Scientists, zoos and people with disabilities could still keep primates as pets under the measure, which was introduced in early January.

Read more about why a chimp would attack a human in our Ask the Experts interview.

Image of chimpanzee by LeaMainone via Wikimedia Commons

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