For anybody who has ever dreamed of owning a pet monkey, that dream may become a little bit more difficult to realize if a trio of U.S. Senators get their way.
And for anybody whose not Michael Jackson – well, passage of the Captive Primate Safety Act probably won’t affect you at all.
The act, introduced by U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., David Vitter, R-La., and Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal, aims to eliminate the interstate sale of monkeys, apes and other non-human primates in the exotic pet trade.
“As we have seen from multiple attacks, these animals pose a serious threat to public health and safety,” said Baxter. “Passage of this bill is long overdue.”
Supporters of the legislation, including the Humane Society of the United States and Born Free USA, an animal advocacy group, argue that keeping primates as pets endangers both the animal and the general public.
According to information released by Baxter’s office, more than 200 people have been injured in primate attacks since 1990, including the highly publicized case of a Connecticut woman who had her face mauled off by a pet chimpanzee in 2009. Primates also pose the risk of spreading a number of diseases, including Ebola, tuberculosis and herpes-B.
“Primates and other exotic animals are a public safety risk when kept as pets, as shown by the tragic accident that occurred in my home state of Connecticut,” said Blumenthal, a Democrat. “This bill is an important step toward protecting the public and correcting a vague and flawed federal law that fails to prohibit non-human primates as pets. This much needed legislation will close this loophole and ensure that accidents like the chimp attack in Stamford never happen again.”
Charla Nash, a 55-year old woman, lost her hands, nose, lips and eyelids, as well as suffering traumatic brain injuries, according to the Huffington Post, when a 200-pound chimp mauled her on Feb. 16, 2009, in Stamford. The chimp, which had to be shot and killed by police, was owned by Sandra Herold, a friend of Nash who did not face criminal charges from the incident.
In large part due to that incident, and due to legislation that Blumenthal championed when he was the state’s Attorney General, the Connecticut legislature voted to end the private ownership of gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans in July of that year, according to the DVM Newsmagazine. A more expansive bill that would have barred the ownership of all sorts of exotic pets, from snakes to elephants, was shot down by the legislature when lawmakers argued that the bill could hurt businesses that relied on those types of animals to bring in customers.
In 2003, the federal Captive Wildlife Safety Act was signed into law prohibiting the interstate commerce of lions, tigers and other big cats as pets.
According to the website petmonkeyinfo.org, 19 states currently have laws banning private ownership of non-human primates, another seven states have partial bans, and six more require a permit for the possession of such animals.
“The captive primate trade involves enormous suffering and threats to human safety,” said Adam Roberts, executive vice president of Born Free USA. “These innocent animals are often confined in small cages and have their teeth extracted. We can’t allow animals to be mutilated in the name of companionship. There is simply no excuse for keeping nonhuman primates as pets. Wildlife belongs in the wild.”
Similar legislation was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives and by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee during the last congressional session, but was not enacted into law. Baxter says the Captive Primate Safety Act would only apply to the private possession of primates, and would not affect zoos, universities or wildlife sanctuaries.