January 1, 2012


Travis the Menace: He was the most famous ape in America. But to really understand a chimp, you have to know his mother (Dan P. Lee, Jan 23, 2011, New York)

Virtually everyone made light of the escapade downtown. The state Department of Environmental Protection was aware of what happened, and also that the Herolds were in violation of a new statute that required a permit to keep a primate over 50 pounds. But they determined that pressing any action would amount to a most likely unwinnable battle to "take custody of a local celebrity" and opted not to pursue the matter.

Stamford's animal-control officer was more concerned. After contacting primatologists, she spoke with Sandy, arguing that Travis was by now a fully sexualized adult (chimpanzees in the wild have sex, nonmonogamously, as often as 50 times a day); that he had the strength of at least five men; that adult chimpanzees are known to be unpredictable and potentially violent (which is why all chimp actors are prepubescent); and that maintaining Travis for the duration of his five- or six-decade lifetime was not viable. Sandy seemed to pay an open mind to the officer's warning but ultimately concluded that Travis had never exhibited even the slightest capacity for violence.

There was one piece of information, however, that Sandy chose not to share with the officer. Two years earlier, the Herolds had received a phone call from Connie Casey, the breeder in Festus. She explained how Travis's parents, Suzy and Coco, had escaped their cages and, with a third chimp, run across the ranch to a nearby housing development, where a 17-year-old named Jason Coats and some friends were pulling into Coats's driveway on their way home from the Dairy Queen. Coats claimed the chimps approached his Chevy Cavalier and trapped the teenagers inside, baring their teeth and rocking the car. Coats eventually got out, ran into his house, and grabbed a shotgun. Casey had by then arrived at the driveway and tranquilized Suzy, who was now, according to Casey and several eyewitnesses, sitting at the edge of the road, stoned, fingering the grass and flowers. Casey begged Coats not to shoot. He fired three rounds at Suzy; she died two hours later.

Following several neighbors' testimony that the chimps were behaving playfully and had posed no threat, a jury found Coats guilty of property damage and animal abuse, and he served a month in jail. Coats nevertheless remained steadfast in his belief that the chimps were dangerous.

Posted by at January 1, 2012 12:00 AM

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