The chimpanzee attack on Charla Nash on Monday has left the 55-year-old woman in critical condition, her face nearly torn off by a rampaging 200-pound animal that had gone berserk. The tragic event highlights the dangers of keeping an exotic wild animal as a pet. Various experts have weighed in on the subject since the chimp attack, but most agree on a common denominator: Travis the chimp felt threatened.
Colleen McCann, a primatologist at the Bronx Zoo, told the Associated Press that it was difficult to determine what may have precipitated Travis the Chimp’s violent behavior. “At the end of the day, they are not human and you can’t always predict their behavior and how they or any other wild animal will respond when they feel threatened.”
Travis the Chimp was the pet of 70-year-old Sandra Herold. He drank wine from a stemmed glass, clothed and bathed himself, enjoyed watering flowers and loved to watch the New York Yankees play baseball. After appearing agitated, Herold told the police she put Xanax in Travis the Chimp’s tea, but to no avail. The chimp let himself out the kitchen door (he used a key on the locked door) and began hitting the car doors, indicating that he wanted to go for a ride. Sandra Herold then called her 55-year-old friend, Charla Nash, to assist her in corralling Travis and getting him back into the house.
When Charla Nash arrived, Travis the Chimp went on the attack. He overpowered her and began mauling her.
Sandra Herold retrieved a butcher knife from her kitchen and stabbed Travis several times, wrestling the irate chimpanzee off of her friend. Herold then frantically called the Stamford, Connecticut, police.
Herold initially told the dispatcher that the chimp was “eating” Charla Nash. Through Travis’ grunts, Herold cries, “The chimp killed my friend!” Herold had hidden behind her vehicle to make the 911 call. “Send the police with a gun. With a gun!”
When asked who was killing her friend, Sandra Herold yells, “My chimpanzee! He ripped her apart! Shoot him, shoot him!”
One officer described the scene when he got there. He said that there was a “man down,” meaning Charla Nash. “We’ve got to get this guy out of here. He’s got no face.”
The chimp would attack the police then, cornering one officer inside his car. When Travis managed to open a door, the officer shot him in the chest. Travis made his way back into the house and died in his cage.
Stamford Police Captain Richard Conklin offered, “Maybe from the medications he was out of sorts.” He also mentioned that Travis the Chimp, who is known to most Stamford residents as a friendly and docile creature, may have simply not recognized Charla Nash because she was wearing her hair differently than what the chimp was accustomed to seeing.
But Dr. Emil Coccaro, chief of psychiatry at the University of Chicago Medical Center, believes that the Xanax that Sandra Herold gave the chimp may have exacerbated prevailing symptoms (the chimp was believed to be suffering from Lyme Disease) or mental instability. He said the Xanax may have made him more aggressive, having the opposite intended effect. Coccaro noted: “Xanax could have made him worse, if human studies are any indication.”
Terry Wolf, Wildlife Director at Lion Country Safari in West Palm Beach, Florida, told WPTV that something as innocent as a look could have angered the chimp and caused the attack. “A look to a chimpanzee if everything,” he said, “since they don’t vocalize things… you can’t rationalize with them, by explaining things to them.. but if you look straight in the eye… to them that’s aggression… you might as well of poked them with a stick.”
Wolf also noted: “A 200 pound chimpanzee has the equivalent strength of the Miami Dolphins offensive line… so if you can hold off five Miami Dolphins offensive linemen… you can hold off that chimp.”
Sandra Herold and Charla Nash hardly constitute anything quite so dominating as the Miami Dolphins offensive line.
In a story filed with the Associated Press, Sandra Herold apparently revised her story about giving Travis the Chimp Xanax before the attack. Herold appeared on NBC’s “Today Show” Wednesday morning and told the same story that had been relayed by Stamford police, even going so far as to display the cup she used. But she later told the Associated Press that she “never, ever” gave the chimp any medication.
Of course, Sandra Herold may have decided to revise her story after finding that police have been looking into the possibility of criminal charges. In this case, Herold might be held responsible if she knew that her pet could have been a danger to others.
Charla Nash remains in critical condition with severe wounds to her face and hands.
“It’s a horrible thing,” Herold told the “Today Show,” “but I’m not a horrible person and he’s not a horrible chimp.”
Whether or not she is a “horrible person” will depend upon what Sandra Herold does with regard to her friend, Charla Nash. Lying to protect oneself is one thing; lying to protect oneself from liability is another.