House Sends Primates Packing

A vicious chimp attack in Stamford that left a woman in critical condition has  lit a fire under a bill that could put an end to pet primates across the nation.

The U.S. House voted Tuesday in favor of a bill that would ban transporting monkeys and apes across state lines to sell them as pets.

The impassioned pleas from lawmakers supporting the bill included the horrific details of the attack on Charla Nash, 55, at the hands of a 14-year-old, 200-pound pet chimpanzee named Travis who was famous for appearing in Old Navy ads. 

The vote comes eight days after the brutal 12-minute mauling that left Nash disfigured to the point where emergency workers could not tell her gender. 

The legislation to prohibit interstate commerce in primates also passed the House last year, but bill sponsor Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., said the "horrific chimpanzee attack" that stunned the nation last week would bring "renewed urgency" to the need to pass the bill into law.

Since 1975, importing primates to sell as pets has been outlawed, but Blumenauer said 30 states, including Connecticut, allow people to keep the animals as pets and it is easy to purchase a primate from exotic animal dealers or over the Internet.

The Humane Society of the United States, which supports the legislation, said non - human primates could also pose serious health risks to humans, spreading diseases such as Herpes B and tuberculosis.

The measure passed 323-95, with several Republican opponents saying that animal control was a state, rather than federal issue, and that spending federal dollars to prevent interstate commerce would do little to stop animal attacks. The roll call is not yet available.

The bill, said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, does nothing to prohibit a monkey from biting, such as in the Connecticut incident, "unless the monkey was willing to chase the woman from Connecticut over to New York State."

He compared the 100 attacks over 10 years to the 100,000 people who go to the hospital every year with dog bites.

"I would respectfully suggest that having your face ripped off is not the same as just an animal bite, a nip here or scratch there," Blumenauer said. "We are dealing with animals that have the potential of inflicting serious damage and death." He estimated that up to 400 chimpanzees are kept as pets in the United States.

Travis, owned by Sandra Herold, 70, of Stamford, was shot and killed after the attack.

Four teams of surgeons at Stamford Hospital operated on Nash for more than seven hours to stabilize her before she was transferred Thursday to the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. She remains under sedation while being evaluated by doctors.

The bill amends the Lacey Act, first passed in 1900 and amended several times, that stops the importation of potentially dangerous non-native species. It is similar to a law enacted in 2003 that banned interstate commerce in lions, tigers and other big cats for the pet trade.

The measure, which does not affect the purchase of animals by zoos or research centers, now goes to the Senate.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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