February 18th, 2009
08:44 PM ET

Q&A with Dave Salmoni: Chimp Attack

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/02/17/chimpanzee.attack/art.travis.child.news12.jpg]

Editor's Note: Two days after a vicious attack by a pet chimpanzee, a woman remains in critical condition in a Connecticut hospital with severe wounds to her face. The 15-year-old chimp, named Travis, was shot to death by a police officer. The owner of the chimp says the attack was a "freak thing" and that Travis was like her son. She insists that chimpanzees make wonderful pets. Animal Planet's Dave Salmoni answers questions about the attack. You can also hear him talk about the attack tonight on AC360°.

Dave Salmoni | BIO
Animal Planet Host of "Rogue Nature: Chimps"

What could have triggered this attack?

Not being there it’s impossible to know exactly what might have triggered this attack. What we do know is that the owner of the chimp recognized that Travis the chimp was agitated. She called her friend, who was friendly with Travis, to come and help control his acting out.

From the accounts of the event it is thought that Travis wanted to go for a car ride. By not allowing Travis what he wanted, he could have seen this as a direct challenge of dominance. The two women together may have looked like a show of force to Travis, which caused an already agitated chimp to want to dominate. The friend, being the least dominant of the two, was the most likely target.

Is this common for a chimp raised as a house pet?

Chimps that are raised with all the good intentions in the world are still very dangerous. Raising a chimp in a home will always end in a negative conflict. It is very natural for a chimpanzee to hive fights for dominance, territorial raids or go out on hunting parties. This type of aggression is innate within Chimps and will be more and more prevalent in their behavior as they get older. Chimps are wild animals and can never be domesticated. They are not pets.

What factors played a role in Travis’s attack?

There has been a lot of talk about Travis having Lyme disease and being on medication for that. There have also been stories of Travis being given Xanax in order to calm him down. Although it’s not known how much either of those factors weighed into the attack, it can be said that age was a large factor. No matter the individual triggers that lead to this attack, it’s my opinion that the attack was bound to happen. Living with a mature male chimp is very dangerous. Even the most trained expert in the world wouldn’t share a home with a chimp so as to avoid an eventual attack. Travis’s behavior is very typical of a chimpanzee of his age and size.

What needs to happen to prevent this from happening again?

It’s my opinion that there needs to be much stronger guidelines set out for someone to own a chimpanzee. Although all chimps belong in the wild, we have a responsibility to care for the animals that we have in captivity now. This care should be given by trained professionals and only trained professionals should be legally allowed to house chimpanzees.

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soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Nikki

    I also think that the owner was 70 and the friend was 55 is another factor not yet talked about.Primates have a clear pecking order.Strongest male rules. I could be wrong, I am sad for evryone in this situation. The owner I beleive had some mental illness and now the pain she will hold. The friend who is injured, my god no words come just tears and prayer.Last travis with no quality life. Even thou we think of "privilaged" 200lbs, that diet,I doubt exercise and no contact w/ his own species. Does any one know if he was neutered? Chimps are endangered but if he was not that could enduse rage?

    February 19, 2009 at 5:56 pm |


    February 19, 2009 at 10:22 am |
  3. Paul (Charlotte, NC)

    How many people have to be attacked before america wakes up to understandthat wild animals are to be left in the wild and not meant to be domesticated. However, since some people can't reason this much, I think it's about time they sign such into law.

    February 19, 2009 at 6:10 am |
  4. Marvin

    This poor chimp died a horrible death. The owner said she gave it medication to calm it down. I wonder how often and how much she put it on dangerous medication to control its behavour to her liking. I won't be surprised that its becoming beserk and ballistic was the side effect of the medication she gave it over the years.
    The owner also said she treated this chimp as her child. How more cruel she could be to such an animal? She certainly was aware and understood how much this chimp had to suffer psychologically and physically over the years in the course of being moulded by her into her child to satisfy her selfish and perverted emotional need??? Should she be surprised at all that finally, this chimp, being unable to take it any more, went berserk???

    February 19, 2009 at 3:05 am |
  5. Elizabeth Cupid

    There should be laws to protect these wild animals,why would people take these animals into their homes and try to raise them as human beings, they are animals first.This lady and others like her need help,the chimp was just being who he is ,why are people so clueless.

    February 19, 2009 at 3:02 am |
  6. rodney

    at lleast he was well cared for and not abused by science. I am against any detaining of wild animals for it reminds me of slavery. The lost of freedom.but some people will do anything for the love of money to have a monkey on their back. No wild creatures should be kept in a home.

    February 19, 2009 at 2:02 am |
  7. Aguilon montenegro

    Dave SAlmoni is absolutely right.They are wild animals and that little %age of DNA that differentiates us humans from them.There should be a general law passed in taking chimps or rather Wild animals per se in care of humans.Certain qualifications and boundaries should be set in order to minimize and avoid such horrifying instances.

    February 19, 2009 at 1:56 am |
  8. wanda

    the lenders involved in the mortages where the value of the home is not worth what the loan was approved for should be held accountable and as well. in effort of preventing this happening again it should be law that a atty be present for all loans it should not be a matter of choice.

    February 19, 2009 at 1:22 am |
  9. kathy noall


    February 19, 2009 at 12:59 am |
  10. JR

    They should have shot the dumb owner, not the chimp! I have worked with animals domestic and wild, even well trained chimps, and I want to know what is an elderly woman doing with a chimp, she cannot handle and control him! A well trained animal is still an animal with his own needs, personality, etc. Animals do not have human brain capacity and understanding. Shooting the chimp was probably unnecessary, if someone is properly trained, almost any animal can be controlled, but that does not mean you treat them like people!!! Keep your animals under control at all times, even if it is only a dog, or don't have the animal!!!!!!!
    I am tired of people who have things they cannot or do not control properly weather it is an animal, or a gun. If you can't handle or control it, don't have it, or it is criminal negligence!

    February 19, 2009 at 12:51 am |
  11. Cleve

    In order to have a wild animal for a pet, there should be some type of training for the petowner to understand how to care for and tame the animal correctly.

    February 18, 2009 at 11:54 pm |
  12. Lemar Zhion

    I don't think chimps should be pets at all.

    February 18, 2009 at 11:53 pm |
  13. Joanne, Solvay, NY

    Yet again, there are wild animals and domestic animals...when will people learn. This is just sad for all involved.

    February 18, 2009 at 11:33 pm |
  14. caleb

    chimps can not be pets no matter what anyone says. lions cant be either. if that person that was attacked was a child what could have happened to it ?

    February 18, 2009 at 11:20 pm |
  15. Kat Parks

    It is unfortunate that this attack has happened, and though I don't believe that exotic animals should ever be banned from private ownership, I do strongly believe in Responsible animal ownership. A responsible owner would have not treated a chimp as a child when it clearly is an adult animal. This is not Responsible ownership. A responsible owner would not have called over a friend to assist with getting the agitated animal contained, a responsible owner would have called authorities first, warning them of the potential danger during the call. A responsible owner would not have given the animal as much latitude as it already had grown used to. A responsible animal owner would not forget the abilities of that animal: strength, agility, and intelligence. As stated in the interview with Mr Salmoni, this age of male chimp was bound to have issues with aggression and dominance. It should have been properly caged, and if the owner wanted the adult chimp to remain in the home, then the home and yard should have been enclosed in an escape proof barrier, so that when he did go outside, he'd still be in the enclosure.

    The key is and always will be RESPONSIBLE pet ownership, whether it's a domestic or an exotic animal, it's still a matter of responsibility. One group that is trying to educate people about responsible pet ownership is REXANO.org. I have several pets, they would all be considered exotic, though none of them are as dangerous as a domestic cat, I still have an obligation to keep my pets properly contained and under control. Whether it's my zebra finches, chuckwalla lizard or my gopher snake, it's my responsibility to keep them from escaping. If they are ill, it's my responsibility to give them proper vet care, by someone experienced in the treatment of that species of animal. I know a lot of very responsible exotic animal owners, who firmly believe as I do, I also know a lot of irresponsible domestic cat and dog owners that don't care if their animals run wild and breed without thought.

    February 18, 2009 at 11:17 pm |
  16. Eddie

    It's very unfortunate this is happening in modern age America,because what has the chimpanzee got to do with the stimulus bill and why should it be at the time President Obama is signing some possitive to help the people of this Nation.This is very sad and I feel sorry for the cartoonist.

    Thank you.

    February 18, 2009 at 11:08 pm |
  17. landon sewell

    This woman who owned this chimp needs to be put away! to allow a wild animal of all things a chimp to sleep in the same bed let alone in the same house is down right sick. There is a reason God made animals to live in the wild and away from humans who live outside the wild kingdom they do not belong together living as one.If this lady dies then the owner needs to be charged with murder the same goes for a owner of a dog that knows their dog will attack someone and can kill.

    February 18, 2009 at 11:04 pm |
  18. alexandra

    i cant believe sombody would keep a chimpanzee as a pet its ridiculous because everyone with a brain would know that they need to be out ingthe wild and so they can attake something other than a human

    February 18, 2009 at 10:55 pm |
  19. Patricia Robinson

    Its hard to train humans what made her think she could train a ape,
    When we think we are smart enough to take these animals out of the wild its crazy..
    Pat the Poet

    February 18, 2009 at 10:50 pm |
  20. Evangeline McNair

    I feel the lady needs her head check out. Her friend is fighting for her life and all she can say is my son. I feel the law needs to be inforce about on wild animals am surpirsed that she was able to keep him this long.It should have been her.

    February 18, 2009 at 10:49 pm |
  21. zach

    I dont think apes should be pets something i knew something like this would happen

    February 18, 2009 at 10:46 pm |
  22. Sherry, N. Calif.

    I think exotic snakes, monkeys, and all animals out of their habitat should be put back where they belong. I am sorry this happened to this lady, her friend, and Travis.

    February 18, 2009 at 10:38 pm |
  23. lynn

    She fed the chimp MEAT & LOBSTER for petes sake. IT IS NOT A Carnivor Animal Does not eat meat or the sort 🙁 WHAT THE HELL WAS SHE THINKING!!! HEAVEN HELP US 4 PEOPLE WITHOUT COMMON SENSE! Please speak up am I the only one to think this way?? Lynn Contryrdr

    February 18, 2009 at 10:36 pm |
  24. Dodie from Irvine, CA

    Chimps are wild animals. We have no business making them pets!!! and this is one good reason why!

    February 18, 2009 at 10:07 pm |
  25. Sharon S

    First of all who was the bimbo who owned this chimp?? Second WHO told her it was OK to give this animal XANAX????

    I want this ignorant person brought up on charges per ANIMAL RIGHTS!!!

    They NOT only had NO right to own and cage a wild animal they had NO right to give them this drug which is dangerous to the animal!

    Go find those rights out CNN!!!

    February 18, 2009 at 9:55 pm |
  26. Sharon S

    Don't you even start me with on this stupidity! These people were NOT trained in the animal world NOR did they know anything about Wild Animals!

    How dare any low life human think they are above any other living thing on this planet is beyond me?????

    They got what they deserved! Animals DO NOT attack unless they feel threatened! They DO NOT act like HUMANS!
    It it NOT in their nature any FOOL would know that!

    But these stupid idiots who KILLED an animal Had NO right to even be Around one!

    In my opinion and I was around ALL animals all my life so I know most animals do not act unless they feel threatened or in danger! So which did this one feel???? That is My Question???

    February 18, 2009 at 9:49 pm |
  27. yaz

    To the lady who was hurt, I will pray for your recovery! God bless you!

    February 18, 2009 at 9:42 pm |
  28. BettyAnn, Nacogdoches,TX

    people who think wild animals are cute pets keep animal rescue ranches like the Black Beauty Ranch here in Texas. People are just plain dumb when it comes to pets.
    Yes, tigers and lions and monkeys are cute but not as pets!
    This is not fair to the animal and not fair to the people the wild animal is subjected to.
    Thank you for you blog! People need to hear this!

    February 18, 2009 at 9:26 pm |
  29. Annie Kate

    With all the movies with chimps in them I would have not thought of a chimp as a dangerous animal. Some re-education may be in order so people don't try to have them as pets.

    February 18, 2009 at 8:55 pm |