In 2009, a chimp named Travis, who was kept as a pet for over 15 years, suddenly mauled his owner’s best friend, a woman named Charla Nash. Nash lost her eyes, nose, lips and hands in the attack before police fatally shot the primate. That incident has been recalled frequently in recent weeks by members of a small residential Las Vegas community who discovered one of their neighbors is housing chimps on his property.
James “Mike” Casey, the resident in question, is affiliated with “A Great Ape Experience,” which provides clients with chimp and monkey entertainment for cocktail receptions and children’s birthday parties. It also lists on its website quite a few charity appearances at children’s hospitals and autistic schools.
The Associated Press reports Casey caused a stir in his neighborhood recently when word got out that he applied for a permit to house four chimps and a capuchin monkey at his home. Though the permit hasn’t been approved as of yet, the AP and Casey’s neighbors all confirm he already has primates living on the property.
The city's board members have him explain that when they meet with Casey in November.
Linda Faso, Casey's neighbor and a self-described animal rights activist, told the AP she's been petitioning neighbors to join her in staging a protest outside of Casey’s home; Faso wants to draw attention to the danger she says the animals pose to neighboring residents.
She’s not far off the mark, though whether the animals pose a bigger threat to the people or vice versa remains to be seen. Recently in Las Vegas, two locally housed primates― not connected to Casey― escaped from their home. (What is it with Vegas and chimps? Do they not have dogs out there?)
The primates, known as Buddy and CJ, broke out of their backyard quarters, took to the streets and jumped on a few cars. Tragically, Buddy was fatally shot by police who reported the animal got too close to bystanders.
Though CJ was only tranquilized during that incident, she later escaped again, was recaught and finally relocated to a sanctuary in Oregon. The Las Vegas community is now exceptionally touchy about the subject of primates as pets, as well it should be.
Keeping wild animals in human homes brings up a slew of issues, safety for both the animals and human beings chief among them. The unnatural mixing of wildlife and civilization can have dire consequences for both species.
Case in point: the wild Burmese pythons currently ruining the Florida everglades ecosystem and posing a serious threat to visitors of its national park. The pythons were imported en masse to the state, and then either escaped from their owners or were released after local Floridians grew tired of owning them as exotic pets, a silly trend that very quickly died out. (Unsurprising, as many pythons grow to be almost 20 feet long and 200 pounds in weight.)
No one’s saying the primates are going to ruin the Las Vegas desert ecosystem, but they certainly don’t belong in residential neighborhoods. As Time magazine wrote in 2009 after Travis’ attack, “No matter how many years it has lived peacefully as a pet, a chimpanzee is not a domesticated animal and can snap without warning.”
Primate expert Jane Goodall and numerous chimp activist groups echo that sentiment and add that ownership of wild animals is devastating to those creatures; there’s an inherent cruelty involved in taking a baby from its mother, and then keeping it locked in a cage once it’s reached full size and has become too strong and undwieldy to be cuddled.
Wild animals aren’t here for our amusement. Nor are they here to be kept in a cell or shot at by police. But this is the experience we are practically begging for when we take wild creatures from their natural lives and try to shove them into our own.
Are there any wild animals you would consider owning as pets? Let us know about your experience with wild animals as pets in the Comments.
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A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and medical writer. In addition to reporting the weekend news on TakePart, she volunteers as a web editor for locally-based nonprofits and works as a freelance feature writer for TimeOutLA.com. Email Andri | @andritweets | TakePart.com