We don’t want to be alone in this world. The feeling of loneliness is a terrible thing, worse still when you’re with people but feel alone. Even the most introverted person, who might claim that’s all they want, still require interactions, just through television, gaming, or some other form.
In the movie I am Legend, Will Smith’s character’s alone in a city full of monsters, but the threat of survival isn’t what ends up consuming his heart with despair and grief, it’s that he has no one to talk to. But then again, he isn’t alone. He has a German Shepard as a companion through his struggles.
The official date is unknown, but roughly 12 000 years ago our ancestors started feeding wolves. Why they didn’t hunt the animals, who knows. Our ability to anthropomorphize and empathize with creatures unlike us must have had a hand in the slow evolution of our connection with them. These wolves at the same time went through a change. While their usual way through life was to stay with their pack and hunt, or flee, something happened when encountering humans. It could have been the weakest of the packs that were abandoned that tried approaching us first, or something more complicated, but the wolves pack mentality led to their homogeneous growth into humanity’s family unit. We fed them, and they began guarding us. It was a beautiful thing.
Meanwhile, cats came into our lives a bit differently. We didn’t feed cats in the beginning. They wandered into our burgeoning new cities like raccoon and found a niche within the ecosystem. Our food storages attracted rats and insets, and cats happened to feed on them, so we lived side-by-side in harmony.
These practical uses of animals that we would later call pets weren’t the only thing going on in our relationship with them though, there was something else happening. We humans are complicated creatures. We have a diverse psychology that requires care on several fronts. Cats and later evolved dogs were simpler. We fed them and they appreciated us. More so, we came to love each other. Dogs are famous for not moving on from an owner that has died, genuinely grieving them for the rest of their days.
And while these two separate species are complex in their own ways, they are never disappointed in you like a person can be, and they don’t hold grudges, except for some cats. So, if a child was feeling lonely, or bullied by their peers, they found comfort in knowing that they could cuddle with their pet and feel loved with no need to explain or prove themselves to the animal.
Animal companionship, or pets, grew into the very fabric of human experience to where the notion has embedded in us as a fundamental part of who we are. But pets didn’t stop at just cats and dogs, we as a collective found that many mammals, and all other forms of creatures had the capacity for companionship too. Across the world, humans began housing hamsters, snakes, parrots, goldfish, and all other forms of animals, including insects! People actually intentionally house insects for their own enjoyment! Something you couldn’t pay me to do, but all the power to those who like ‘em. The only animals we didn’t make pets were the truly wild ones, such as zebras, deer, wolverines, and other potentially dangerous creatures. Though those animals were used by us in other ways, such as circuses or zoos. It seemed there was no limit to humanity’s capacity to find kinship in other species, but with that came the question of whether that was what was best for the animals we were housing. A question rarely asked until recently. What is best for the animal? With dogs and cats, they have been in our care for so long that a co-dependence has been formed, excluding outdoor cats. However, with exotic animals, such as (of course) monkeys and apes, what is best for them? To be housed by us? Or free to live the life they still have encoded in them to live? That’s what we’re going to explore today.
First, welcome back one and all to the review series on YouTube that matters most! Monke in review. Whether the weather be weathered for furry friends across our genetic branches or not, we’ll be here to review the best and brightest among us. Today’s subject for your consideration is Monkes as Pets.
////////////// PROSECUTOR’S CASE FILE: MONKE FOR PET /////////////////
The keeping of primates as pets may seem like a fun, magical adventure. There are no shortage of videos online showing monke social media personalities with their handlers, and it looks like nothing but a good time! However, just like everything else online, you can’t trust what you see. It’s rarely a 1:1 on how something appears versus how something is. In the case of exotic non-human primate pets, there are ugly realities that for obvious reasons don’t get translated into their online brand. So, what am I talking about? How are these monkeys doing offline? I am not by any means saying that these primate handlers abuse their pets, but for even the best of these owners, the trafficking trade that goes into how they got their hands on these monkeys and apes in the first place perpetuate the horrible, inhumane act of poaching. Then, once in the care of these pedestrians, unless they are landowners with an abundance of space for these guys to live as close to an authentic life as they would in their natural habitat, which for the most case isn’t in the cards, these non-human primates are still having to cope with a lack of social bonding that happens when they live with their own kind that we cannot as people give them.
The argument often comes up regarding primate owners that under their care, the lifespan of these primates is extended, which justifies their online exploitation, and I’ve grappled with this statistic myself in previous videos. The lifespan aspect, not the exploitation. And I think that while that is a good thing, it doesn’t outweigh the several negatives of ripping a wild animal out of their natural setting. A good analogy for this would be to say if we caged a person within a safe but unnatural environment. They get fed and are entertained, but they have to go without the ability to socialize with anybody but robots. The person lives to be 200 years old, so is the act justified? I think it’s generally accepted by most that no, it isn’t, because what that human is robbed of makes living that long not worth it. The meaning of life for humans is the pursuit of happiness, and while primates cannot communicate using our language, I feel like it is an easy assumption to make that the meaning of life for them is the same thing. If they were given the choice to live a normal life in the wild with their kind, in the environment they evolved for, versus being shipped to another continent and live among a fraction of the number of animals, non of which are their own kind, they would choose the former.
And on that note of not being with their own kind, that brings sexuality into it. In a similar case with cats and dogs, primate pets have to be spade and neutered, otherwise they become unruly and potentially violent when they go into heat, so that adds another layer of cons on the book for why we shouldn’t own them as pets. Also, it’s just a basic case of self reflection. Like why do you want to have an ape of monkey as a pet? For their benefit? Or yours? And why does it benefit you? Does it improve your mental health, having an extra simian around? Why not just a adopt a baby? Because of the exotic nature? These animals are rare in your environment. Why is that? Because it is not natural for them. But that doesn’t deter you, it excites you. Does the prospect of housing them make you feel special? Then, amid the current panoptic amalgamation of social media, a new motive for why people would want primates as pets becomes painfully clear. All those previous reasons can still exist, but this new form of exploitation renders all other reasons moot if owners begin posting videos and pictures of their apes and monkeys publicly. And that reason is not a good enough to invariably alter the course and happiness of these primates lives, in my opinion. It just isn’t.
But, of course, I am not the law. If I had unlimited money and decided to take all online profiles housing non-human primates to court… it would be under a civil lawsuit and I would lose, because there are no hardened laws against the ownership of exotic animals, and any account of mistreatment aside from abuse would only come in the form of squeaks and coos from the primates. Squeaks and coos are not deemed as official accounts for anything under human law. Plus, much like propaganda-fuelled authoritarian-ruled police states, the victims of mistreatment often don’t know there are alternatives to the lives they are living and would not have any complaint to speak of unless shown alternative ways to live. An ape or monkey loving their owner is not a sign that they are better off with that owner than in the wild. That love comes from a place of dependency and honestly, Stockholm syndrome. But that’s kind of the case for all pets, so what point would I be making in the first place?
Ultimately, the best we can do as a society is grow in our understanding of animal treatment and bring into power new policies that aid in preserving general well-being for all wild animals at large. We don’t- I repeat, do NOT, have a God-given right to dominate all other animals on this Earth. We have an intrinsic moral duty to co-exist with them to the best of our ability. I believe that at the bottom of my heart. Other animals aren’t our playthings. I believe a majority of people are good at their core, and those people can stray from good due to morphed world views given to them by others. And because of that I feel compelled to say: if you think stepping on a caterpillar is wrong, hold onto that feeling. Don’t let others make you think you’re being a baby, and that growing up is to disregard the lives of other animals, because that’s not true. I’m saying this as someone who has fervently kill insects I find in my home, but I do it out of fear, not moral righteousness. Certain peeps, like ladybugs, potato bugs, caterpillars, and moths? My fear doesn’t win there. I scoop them up and release them back outside. I don’t care if it makes me look weak or stupid for caring of a life so small. Though I gotta confess, recently I was pressured into killing a ladybug due to short time and peer influence, and I still think about that. It wasn’t right what I did.
Listen, I can already hear a bunch of you calling me a smooth brain and living in a fantasy world, but I’m not saying the world isn’t full of compromises to our morals. I’m just saying we need to have those morals to compromise in the first place, and to only compromise when we need to instead of when we’re just bored. The world isn’t perfect, and at times we will find ourselves needing to make tough decisions but going through a several-step process in acquiring and buying a wild monkey or ape, then going step by step in neutering it, house training it, and generally forcing it to adapt to the life you have molded for it, is just on its face wrong. More people need to be able to see that, because next-to-no self reflection appears to be happening.
Now with my major swings, hooks, jabs and cuts swung, imma drop my opinion gloves and take a more objective look into the subject of monkes as pets. It’s time we journey down memory lane and check out a couple notable monke pets recorded throughout popular culture. We may just see how people have been influenced into getting primate pets of their own. So, for our first foray, I want to share a seemingly innocuous example in: Bubbles, Michael Jackson’s pet chimp.
/////////////////////// BUBBLES //////////////////////////
Bubbles was born in 1983 and was acquired by Jackson in 1985. He was raised as a pet and lived with Jackson at his Neverland Ranch in California, being a witness to untold horrors. He was trained to perform various tricks and was often dressed in clothing and accessories similar to those worn by Jackson. Despite the attention he received, Bubbles’ life as a pet was controversial and raised concerns about the ethics of his ownership. Primate experts and animal welfare organizations criticized Jackson for keeping Bubbles in a captive environment, such as Jane Goodall.
Chimpanzees have unique physical and psychological needs that can be difficult or impossible to meet in a private home, hence the concerns and straight up abuse accusations thrown by Goodall, though no accusations have been made by Bubbles, because, you know, he can’t talk. He’s a chimp. He did eventually move out. In 2003, Bubbles was transferred to the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula, Florida, where he has lived since. The centre is a sanctuary for primates that provides a safe and stimulating environment for rescued and retired animals.
Overall, Bubbles’ story highlights the power of fame over culture and the controversy surrounding keeping primates as pets. It underscores the importance of providing these complex and social animals with proper care and living conditions. But you might say, what’s the big deal? Bubbles seemed to be having a good enough time. There seemed to be no big issue with this guy in particular. Right, well, that leads us into our next subject.
/////////////////////////// TRAVIS /////////////////////////////
You knew this one was coming. You must have known. How could I not cover this horrible story? I remember being at my friend’s house after school when the Oprah interview happened. We were going to play modern warfare 2 but got distracted by what the T.V. was currently playing, when a woman with a vail was introduced to Oprah’s audience. It was weird because normally it’s celebrities that come on stage, so what was this? And the story began. I’ll never forget it. Now it’s time I tell you.
Travis was born to Suzy and Coco, who were imported from Africa to the U.S. sometime in the 1970s. He was born near Festus, Missouri on October 21, 1995, at Mike and Connie Braun Casey’s compound, currently named the Missouri Chimpanzee Sanctuary. Sandra and Jerome Herold purchased Travis for $50,000 from a breeder after he was taken from his mother when he was three days old. They named the chimpanzee after Sandra’s favorite singer, Travis Tritt. The Herolds raised Travis at their home at Rock Rimmon Road in the North Stamford section of Stamford, Connecticut. Meanwhile in a separate incident, Suzy, Travis’ mother, attempted to escape her compound in 2001. Was she seeking her son that was taken from her? We’ll never know, because during her escape she was fatally shot.
Back in Connecticut, Travis was the Herolds’ constant companion and would often accompany them to work and on their shopping excursions in town. The Herolds owned a towing company, and Travis would pose for photos at the shop and ride with the tow truck, his seat belt buckled as he wore a baseball shirt. Travis became well known in the town and had been known to greet police officers they would encounter when towing cars.
Having grown up among people, Travis had been socialized to humans since birth. A neighbour said he used to play around and wrestle with Travis. The neighbour added that the animal always knew when to stop and paid close attention to his owner. “He listened better than my nephews,” the neighbour remarked after Travis had mauled Nash. “I just don’t know why he would do that.”
Travis could open doors using keys, dress himself, water plants, feed hay to his owners’ horses, eat at a table with the rest of the family, and drink wine from a stemmed glass; he was so fond of ice cream that he learned the schedules of passing ice cream trucks. He logged onto the computer to look at pictures, watched television using a remote control, and brushed his teeth using a water pick. He enjoyed watching baseball on television. Travis had also driven a car on several occasions.
The Herolds’ had an only child, a daughter, but she died in a car accident in 2000; so, as a result, the Herolds’ regarded Travis almost as a surrogate son and pampered him. In 2004, Jerome Herold died from cancer. This loss drove Sandra to sleep and bathe with Travis, saying after his death, “I’m, like, hollow now. He slept with me every night. Until you’ve eaten with a chimp and bathed with a chimp, you don’t know a chimp.”
In October 2003, Travis escaped from the Herolds’ car and held up traffic at a busy intersection; he was on the loose for several hours. The incident began after a pedestrian threw an empty soda bottle at the car that went through a partially open window and struck Travis while they were stopped at a traffic light. Startled, Travis unbuckled his seat belt, opened the car door and chased the man, but did not catch him. When police arrived, they lured the chimpanzee into the car several times, only to have Travis let himself out of another door and occasionally chase the officers around the car. The 2003 incident led to the passing of a Connecticut law prohibiting people from keeping primates weighing more than 50 pounds as pets and requiring owners of exotic pets to apply for permits. The new law took effect in 2009, and as of Travis’s death in the same year, no one in the state had applied to adopt a chimpanzee. The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) did not enforce the law on the Herolds because they had owned 200-pound Travis for so long, and the DEP did not believe Travis posed a public safety risk.
Then the second shoe dropped. On February 16, 2009, at around 3:40 p.m., Travis attacked Sandra Herold’s then 55-year-old friend, Charla Nash, inflicting devastating injuries to her face and limbs. Travis had left the house with Sandra Herold’s car keys, and Nash came to help get the chimp back in the house; upon seeing Nash holding a Tickle Me Elmo, one of his favourite toys, Travis flew into a rage and attacked her. Travis was familiar with Nash, who had also worked at the Herolds’ towing company, although Nash had a different hairstyle at the time of the attack, which may have also confused and alarmed him. Additionally, he had been taking medication for Lyme disease. Sandra Herold attempted to stop Travis by hitting him on the head with a shovel and stabbing him in the back with a butcher knife.
Herold later said, “For me to do something like that, put a knife in him, was like putting one in myself.” The chimp turned around, she said, as if to say, “‘Mom, what did you do?’” The animal grew angrier. Sandra, at this point, believing Nash to be dead, then rushed to her car, locked herself inside and called 9-1-1. Travis’ screams can be heard in the background at the start of the tape as Herold pleads for the police, who initially believed the call to be a hoax until she said, “He’s eating her!” Emergency medical services waited for police before approaching the house. When they arrived, Travis headed towards the police car, tried to open a locked passenger door, and smashed a side-view mirror. Then he went around to the driver’s-side door and opened it, at which point Officer Frank Chiafari shot him four times with his service pistol. Travis retreated to the house, where he was found dead next to his cage.
The emergency crew described Nash’s injuries as “horrendous”. Within the following 72 hours, Nash underwent more than seven hours of surgery on her face and hands by four teams of surgeons. The hospital provided counselling to its staff members who initially treated her because of the extraordinary nature of Nash’s wounds. Paramedics noted she lost her hands, nose, eyes, lips, and mid-face bone structure and received significant brain tissue injuries. Doctors removed chimpanzee hair and teeth that had been implanted into her bones and reattached her jaw, but announced on April 7, 2009, that Nash would be blind for life. Her injuries made her a possible candidate for an experimental face transplant surgery. After initial treatment at Stamford Hospital, Nash was transferred to the Cleveland Clinic. Her family started a trust fund to raise money to pay her “unfathomable” medical bills and support her daughter. Nash revealed her damaged face to the public for the first time on The Oprah Winfrey Show on November 11, 2009. She was not at that time in physical pain from the attack, and family members said she hoped to leave the Cleveland Clinic soon. Pictures have surfaced on the Internet displaying Nash’s face before and after the attack.
In accordance with standard procedure, Travis’ head was taken to the state laboratory for a rabies test, and the body was taken to the University of Connecticut for a necropsy. The head tested negative for rabies, but there was Xanax (Alprazolam) remaining in his system. Necropsy results in May 2009 confirmed the chimp was overweight and had been stabbed. The remains were cremated at All Pets Crematory in Stamford on February 25, 2009. Toxicology reports confirmed Sandra’s statement that she had given Travis Xanax-laced tea the day of the attack, which could have exacerbated his aggression. Xanax is a short-acting, potent anti-anxiety drug that can cause disinhibition and disorientation and occasionally paradoxical reactions of hallucination, aggression, rage, and mania in humans.
Shortly after the attack, a woman who had lived in the same area as Herold came forward with information that, in 1996, the chimpanzee had bitten her hand and tried to pull her into a vehicle as she greeted him. She claimed to have complained to the Herolds and to police, who stated they had no record of any such complaint. Afterward, PETA members allegedly harassed Herold, although the organization stated that it did not have any official involvement.
On May 24, 2010, 15 months after the attack, Sandra Herold died suddenly of a ruptured aortic aneurysm at the age of 72. Her attorney, Robert Golger, released the following statement: “Mrs. Herold had suffered a series of heartbreaking losses over the last several years, beginning with the death of her first and only daughter who was killed in a car accident, then her husband, then her beloved chimp Travis, as well as the tragic maiming of friend and employee Charla Nash. In the end, her heart, which had been broken so many times before, could take no more.”
So, Travis’ attack, similar to another chimpanzee attack four years earlier in California, provoked discussion about the logic of keeping such exotic animals as pets by sources such as Time magazine and primatologists Jane Goodall and Frans de Waal. The previous attack happened due more to negligence. NASCAR driver St. James Davis and his wife LaDonna Davis had a pet chimpanzee named Moe, whom they treated as if he were a human child. After Moe bit several people, the city of West Covina, California seized the primate and placed him in an animal sanctuary near Bakersfield, California. The Davises waged a long, unsuccessful legal battle to recover Moe.
On March 3, 2005, while at the sanctuary on one of their frequent visits with Moe, St. James and LaDonna Davis were attacked by two young male chimpanzees, Buddy and Ollie, who had escaped their enclosures. LaDonna Davis lost her thumb, and St. James Davis was brutally mauled, resulting in permanent disfigurement and missing extremities.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal noted that a defect in the existing 2004 Connecticut law prohibiting chimpanzees of Travis’ size, itself a result of the 2003 incident, allowed the attack to occur. A Connecticut DEP spokesman clarified that Travis was exempt because he did not appear to present a public health risk and was owned before the registration requirement began. Blumenthal subsequently sent letters to legislative leaders and the DEP Commissioner, asking them to support a proposed law that would ban all potentially dangerous exotic animals, such as chimpanzees, crocodiles, and venomous snakes, from being kept in a residential setting in Connecticut. The DEP was seeking a similar law banning large primates and, after the incident, announced that it sought the help of the public, police officers, and animal control officers to report such pets to the agency. The editorial board of The Advocate newspaper in Stamford also supported banning the possession of all exotic birds and reptiles.
U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon introduced the Captive Primate Safety Act introduced on January 6, 2009, which would have added monkeys, great apes, and lemurs to the list of “prohibited wildlife species” that cannot be sold or purchased through interstate and foreign sales. The attack led the Humane Society of the United States to join with the Wildlife Conservation Society in supporting the Act. Travis’ attack resulted in the bill’s reintroduction by co-sponsor, Rep. Mark Kirk, on February 23, 2009. Rep. Rob Bishop argued against the bill during the floor debate, noting it would cost $4 million annually and do nothing directly to prevent chimpanzee attacks on humans. He also claimed such attacks are relatively rare. Twenty states and the District of Columbia already have laws banning primates as pets. On February 23, 2009, the House voted 323 to 95 in favour of the bill, and the editorial boards of several major newspapers, including The New York Times and Newsday, supported its passage. The bill was never taken up by the U.S. Senate.
Frank Chiafari—the police officer who fatally shot Travis—was initially unable to get his therapy for depression and anxiety covered after the incident. This led to legislation proposed in 2010 that would cover a police officer’s compensation for mental or emotional impairment after using justifiable deadly force to kill an animal.
Finally, it’s worth noting that an attack similar to the incident is depicted in the 2022 film Nope, in which an animal actor chimp is startled on set and attacks its human co-stars. The young woman mauled by the chimp in the film is shown years later to wear a mesh covering over her face similar to the one worn by Nash. It shows the kind of influence such tragedies hold. Something like what happened, never should had, and it was completely avoidable. All that was required was inaction.
////////////// MEANWHILE, ONLINE /////////////////////
Instead of all this teaching people to just leave monkeys and apes alone, it seems the allure of social media has made people blind to these incidents as there are just as many if not more non-human primate pets now than in the past. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, ownership of our genetic cousins is a controversial issue, and for good reason. While some people view primates as affectionate and intelligent companions, it is unethical to keep these complex and social animals in captive environments, such as private homes! They are highly social animals that live in large groups in the wild and need plenty of physical and mental stimulation to maintain their health and well-being.
Primates carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans, and some species can be aggressive or become dangerous when they reach maturity. Additionally, the keeping of primates as pets often involves the removal of animals from the wild, which can have negative impacts on wild populations. This trade in primates is also associated with widespread cruelty and exploitation, as animals are often captured and transported in inhumane conditions.
With the recent app TikTok being the hottest place to view anything and everything, it has been shown to sway a massive influence over its viewers. Granted this used to be Facebook’s thing, to start stupid and dangerous trends, where now it’s just used to spread dangerous misinformation. TikTok is now the king for making people do things, and also spread misinformation. In recent years, videos and images featuring primates have become popular, showing pet primates performing tricks or engaging in human-like behaviour, while others feature wild primates in their natural habitats. Those videos are perfectly fine, and what should be the bulk of said videos, but they’re not.
Despite the popularity of these videos, many animal welfare organizations and experts warn that they can be misleading and can contribute to the exploitation of primates. For example, videos of pet primates may give the impression that it is acceptable to keep these animals as pets. Many of these videos are often staged or edited in ways that can distort the animals’ natural behaviour or create unrealistic expectations about what these animals are capable of. As a result, people who view these videos may be misled about the true nature of primates and their complex needs and behaviours.
///////////////// CONCLUSION /////////////////////
At the end of it all, what more can I say? From bubbles, to Travis and Moe, to current tik tok monke owners. Overall, while videos and images featuring primates may be entertaining or sprinkled with informative bits, it is important to be mindful of their potential impact and to seek out reliable and accurate information about these animals. Animal welfare organizations and primate experts can provide valuable resources for understanding these (complex and intelligent) creatures, and the important role they play in the natural world. Like I know that today’s world, T.V. is boring. Okay, I get it. But at least when television was the king of the entertainment crop, there were cheques and balances. Rules needed to be followed. National geographic, Disney nature, BBC Earth, the Smithsonian institution, all of these boomer corporations are at least trying to spread proper information about these wild animals, so listen to them over tiktokers.
Thank you for reading my boring ape-ass talk about ape issues. But seriously, I appreciate you making it this far and I hope you learned a thing or two about the subject of primates as pets. It’s been fun at times, and it’s been harrowing at times, but in the end I think we can all walk away knowing that our place on this earth is one to be shared with our genetic cousins, not ruled over them. And finally, I want to ask you guys your opinion about primate pets. After all this, are you for or against it? Let me know. And make sure to like to spread the sacred word of monkes far and wide! This has been Joe Van, wishing you all nothing but monke love in your lives. Take care and until next time, sleep well fellow primates. Ciao for now. Peace.