Saturday, April 23, 2005

Mean Chimps

Once, when I was traveling in Quintana Roo in Mexico a few years ago, I thought long and hard about stealing a spider monkey from an animal sanctuary. Not because I am some sort of animal activist who wanted to liberate animals held in captivity. No, it was because of the brief, intense friendship I'd developed with Tina.

I had just survived almost being choked to death by a python (the picture of it around my next was not worth it), and was already on edge, when this furry, small creature swooped down from the trees and straight into my arms.

"She really likes you," Manuel the guide said. And he was right. Once she had swung into my arms, she refused to let go. She wrapped her arms around me and buried her head into the crook of my right arm. Sandy, one part of the lesbian couple that had given me a ride to the sanctuary, tried in vain to wrestle Tina from me. Sandy didn't say much to me after that.

I briefly explored my options for escaping with Tina. I could probably run through the teenage crocodile pen to my right, hop the low fence beyond it and run through the bog a couple of miles until I hit the north-south highway between Cancun and Belize. It was early morning and chilly; the crocs were lethargic and wouldn't have the juice to attack. I'd actually held a two year old only croc twenty minutes earlier, and it was pretty chill.

Once clear of the sanctuary, Tina and I would hang out together, traveling around Mexico for another week or so. Then, I'd hide her under a baggy sweatshirt before boarding the plane and sneak her into the States. The plan was reckless and romantic.

Manuel pulled out a banana, and my friendship with Tina was over as fast as it began. She took the banana and then took off up a tree.

Its probably not a bad thing I never ran off with Tina. I was in San Diego most of last week, and the big local story there was about a decision not to press charges after a vicious chimpanzee attack that happened last month. A couple was bringing a birthday cake for their former pet chimp Moe (who was at the sanctuary because he'd bitten a woman's finger off when he lived with the couple), when they were attacked by two adolescent chimps that were jealous of the attention Moe was getting. Some details about the story stand out:

  • The viciousness of attack: Apparently chimpanzees have three times the strength that humans do. That's suprising to me, because they seem so slim, cute and sinewy to me. I would have thought that while they could outdo me when it came to tree climbing, I could probably kick a chimp's ass. Wrong. Knowing that explains how the victims injuries could be so severe. St. James Davis had his face half bitten off, his foot bitten off, his fingers all bitten off and his balls ripped off. His wife LaDonna had a finger bitten off. St. James is in an induce coma to manage the pain while doctors still labor to save him.
  • The stupidity of the victims: What happened to the Davis's is obviously sad and tragic. But, some parts of the story seem incredulous to me. Apparently, the attacking chimps (Buddy and Ollie) started thrashing LaDonna first. St. James heroically pushed his wife under a table to save her. But, then, according to some news accounts, St. James tried to reason with the chimps. Reason? "Listen Buddy and Ollie, calm down. There is plenty of cake for evertyone." If a bunch of angry chimps were attacking me, I wouldn't be trying to use logic with them. I'd be grabbing rocks, throwing punches or kicks, anything to scare them off. A chimp may be three times as strong as me, but I am pretty sure I am a better boxer, which might give me an advantage (remember the "Rumble in the Jungle?" Foreman was clearly stronger than Ali.). I am not sure that Buddy or Ollie would know how to handle a good jab.

Now, Tina was nicer and didn't seem the jealous type, so maybe she wouldn't have freaked out like these chimps. And, she was a monkey and not an ape (as chimps are), so maybe there are some behavioral differences. Although a van I was driving in when in Tanzania many years ago was once attacked by a bunch of angry, rock-throwing baboons (which are monkeys), so who knows. Chimps are clearly not meant to be emotionally fucked with or reasoned with or kept as pets by lay people; they are meant to chill in the wild or or star as lovable sitcom sidekicks.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The chimp attack is sad but funny in the way that all attacks against man the imprisoner are.

With regard to pressing charges, who pray tell will be charged? The chimps? The fools who went in to see Moe? The owner of the refuge for "not properly imprisoning the chimps"? I wonder...

9:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The owners were being looked at for criminal negligence for not properly securing the wild chimps.

9:18 AM  
Blogger Daniel Heath said...

I would just like to add after visiting the monkey onsen in Japan that monkeys also apparently like to hang out in hot springs. Probably if they'd had hot springs at those places the chimps would've been much more relaxed.

The taxi driver said the monkeys will clean your back for you if you get in with them, but I'm not sure I believe him.

2:05 AM  

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