Back in September 2005, four chimpanzees made a break for freedom from a depressing roadside zoo called Zoo Nebraska after workers at the zoo failed to lock the animals’ cage properly. Ultimately, three of the chimpanzees—Reuben, Jimmy Joe, and Tyler (who had been discarded by the entertainment industry once he got too big and strong to reliably perform in TV and movies)—were shot and killed by police. You can view a police video of the escape here.
USDA reports obtained by PETA reveal that in the six and a half years leading up to this incident, the zoo had been cited repeatedly for improper care of exotic animals. Citations included failure to maintain enclosures in order to prevent escape of animals, failure to have a disaster program with means to restrain or capture animals in the event of an emergency, failure to train employees in how to operate a tranquilizer gun, failure to provide shelter, failure to provide primates with environmental enhancement to promote psychological well-being, failure to provide veterinary care to tigers and primates, insufficient access to drinking water, and sanitation violations. The long list of repeated violations and the fatal escape attempt spurred the USDA to file charges against Zoo Nebraska in 2007; last month, the USDA finally revoked the zoo’s license.
Most zoos, circuses, and animal trainers that handle great apes have a long list of similar violations, but, all too often, no action is taken until after tragedy strikes. Just this past week in Connecticut, a captive chimpanzee named Travis, who had appeared in advertisements for Coca-Cola and Old Navy, attacked his owner, her friend, and two police officers before he was shot to death. Some people may think that seeing chimpanzees dress up in costumes and mug for TV cameras is “cute,” but these heartbreaking events speak loud and clear: Great apes are wild animals who belong in their natural habitat. You can read the letter that we sent to the governor of Connecticut calling for a ban on keeping primates as “pets” here and you can take action yourself here.
Written by Liz Graffeo