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It’s an old Hollywood cliché: failed and embittered childhood actor grows up and, no longer embraced by the establishment, acts out by driving drunk, robbing a convenience store, viciously masticating an innocent woman’s face with exceptionally large and sharp canine teeth in a fit of fury till finally brought down by the police in a hail of gunfire… um, hold on. As you might have guessed we are not talking about an all-too-human Dana Plato, Todd Bridges or Corey-of-your-choice, but a fellow member of our family Hominidae, which diverged from our species 6 million years ago. I refer of course to the tragedy of Travis the Celebrity Chimpanzee (former spokes-monkey for Old Navy and Coca-Cola), brought down in a blaze of bullets as he took his last knuckle-walking stand. Currently the latest Internet Search Engine Sensation.
What set him off? Was it Lyme Disease, Xanax-laced tea, his victim’s new haircut, the shattered dreams of not living up to his fullest potential as a celebrity primate (shilling for conglomerates and corporations instead of breaking human/chimp barriers like Washoe, who mastered American Sign Language in the 1960s, or those great ape cosmonauts from the 1950s–Ham, Enos and Minnie–who broke the sound barrier and orbited the planet, paving the deep-space road for Alan Shepard). Probably not the latter.
You see, Travis was the ripe old age of 15 years old (which is full adult maturity), however, chimpanzees are known to start becoming dangerous at the age of 5 (when it is probably best to introduce them to a sanctuary since it is quite common for them to start to exhibit aggressive behavior toward their owners at this time). And all it takes is once folks, when you’re dealing with 200 pounds of taut compact muscle and primal instinct. The average male chimp has four to five times the upper-body strength of his human counterpart, and while that might come in handy while trying to open that stubborn pickle jar, it is bound to backfire when he’s feeling a mite testy because his grooming is not up to par or the nice old lady refuses to give him a ride in the “vroom vroom”.
Yet, at the Herold Household, Travis was living the high life being fed steak, lobster and ice cream while drinking wine from stemmed glasses (I guess those commercial residuals were pretty lucrative–do quadrupeds qualify for SAG?). He was able to dress and wash himself, brush his teeth with a Water Pik and had the use of his own personal toilet. He had a computer where he surfed the Internet (monkey porn sites? National Geographic?), and had access to a remote control TV and was allegedly an expert at channel changing (Fear Factor? When Animals Attack?) Living a better life than most of his homeland’s third-world bipedal Homo sapien neighbors. One ponders what those poor fly-covered, swollen-bellied residents, waiting in desperation for the latest vaccine and rice shipments in the Heart of Darkness, might have thought about old Mr. Bushmeat living it up so hoity toity.
Perhaps this unfortunate incident will help to remind us that these animals are not playthings. They are wild creatures who, although we may try to indoctrinate them into our culture, do not ultimately possess a human capacity for logic and empathy and live by certain unrelenting instincts which we are powerless to tame. Yes chimps have 96% of our DNA but that 4% makes a vast difference. We are living on The Planet of the Humans after all.
Now if you’ll excuse me I have to get back to reading a story about a mild-mannered Muslim TV executive brutally decapitating his wife in the centuries-old rational tradition of “honor killing.” Ah humanity!