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A Surly Simian or: The Chimp’s Chumps

February 18, 2009

A Stamford, Connecticut chimpanzee should have had his Internet and TV privileges revoked a long time ago. Maybe he watched too many Darth Maul trailers.

Probably the whole Internet-speaking world knows by now that a chimp named Travis, who lived in an affluent Stamford home, severely mauled his owner’s friend.

Stamford is not stupid, nor is it primitive. The cost of living in Stamford is 81% above the national average. The median home price in Stamford is $893,000. Slightly over 22% of its residents hold bachelor’s degrees, one and a half times the national average, and 16.5% hold graduate degrees, which is twice the national average.

Lots of experts, as they always do, are weighing in. My theory is fairly simple. I suspect that Mrs. Herold, Travis’s owner, is an evolutionist who somehow thought that Travis would evolve more quickly into a cute 200-pound person if he drank wine from a stemmed glass and tea from a cup, and dined with the family at the table. But I really can’t begin to imagine what she must have been thinking.

Being a lawyer, the first thing I wondered about, of course, were the liability issues. The scenario would make a great Bar exam question. Unfortunately, unlike most exam problems, it isn’t hypothetical.

It isn’t clear whether the attack on the victim, a frequent visitor to the home, was precious Travis’s first bite. There is a reference to a previous “rampage” in the streets of Stamford six years ago. I leave it to the Connecticut courts to figure out whether Travis was a known-dangerous animal, triggering strict liability. As for Travis himself, the police were obliged to shoot him after his attack on Mrs. Herold’s friend, and he was summarily decapitated for rabies testing.

It seems to me that this is a fairly predictable outcome for a case of keeping a strong wild animal and trying to humanize, rather than to subdue, its brute nature. It’s a case of subverting the natural order: it is sin. Animals have no consciousness of sin. But sin makes people stupid, and it ruins everything.

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