Monday, September 1, 2014

What happens to baby pet chimp when he becomes a strong adult?

When I first heard of the blog about Aya Katz and her pet chimp, Bow, I was angry and disgusted. People who keep great apes in their homes and raise them to be not-apes make my blood boil. But as I learned more about Ms. Katz’s situation, my anger turned to sadness. This is a disaster waiting to happen, and there’s nothing I can do to prevent it.

Aya has evidently been blogging about her experience raising a Bow for a number of years. She writes children's books, including one that, based on the Amazon reviews, is encouraging other mothers to buy a primate for their kids. How does someone arrive at a life decision to buy a pet chimpanzee and encourage others to do the same? At one point, Aya was a practicing attorney in Grand Prairie, Texas, but according to her online bio, she left the law and became a linguist. Somewhere along the line, she started calling herself a primatologist – although she doesn’t cite any formal education in primatology. (I guess a chimp owner could consider oneself “home schooled.”)

Aya Katz holds baby Bow at the breeder's place, while another young chimp and Aya's daughter look on.
Project ChimpCare estimates that there are more than 50 chimpanzees with private breeders and in private homes across the United States. I’m sure that every single one of the owners think they know better than real primatologists, that they will shower so much love on their little chimp that it will never harm them or try to escape or harm others. I’m sure Aya never thinks that Bow will harm her or anyone else, not even when he is 20 years old with hormones raging, and has five times the strength of a man. Bow will never turn into a rampaging Travis, tearing off the face of his owner’s best friend. Bow will never be like Buddy, escaping his cage and getting gunned down on a neighborhood street. Bow won’t become one of a line of dead pet chimps.

Aya says she bought Bow in 2002, which means he is at least 12 years old now. Aya is in her 50s. So what does she have planned for Bow? After all, as a “primatologist,” Aya must know that chimpanzees can live 50 years or more, and will always be dependent 24/7 on a human caregiver. What has Aya planned for Bow’s next 40 years?

“We are still getting along just fine. And I think we will continue to get along when he is an adult,” Aya writes, optimistically, in her blog. “But the question for me is how to prepare for the day when Bow no longer has me to rely on. And any solution I choose, I believe needs to be a solution that is not just good for Bow, but for ten generations into the future.”

Looking ten generations ahead is great. But what about THIS generation? What is going to happen to this specific chimpanzee?

Aya evidently doesn’t want the assistance of a sanctuary, “because the funding for [sanctuaries] comes from people who have no real interest in chimpanzees and who are largely committed to ending the existence of chimpanzees outside the continent of Africa.” So, we can establish the fact that she is abysmally ignorant about the tens of thousands of people who give up their own money to help support chimpanzees that are not theirs. Chimps just like Bow.

She “hopes” that Bow will have children of his own. How does that happen, when he is stuck in a private home, alone in his cage?

Is she going to want to put him in a zoo? I don’t know of any accredited zoo that will take a discarded pet chimpanzee who hasn’t been with his own species since he was grabbed from his mother’s arms to be sold to someone like Aya. But perhaps there is a roadside zoo where Bow can sit in his rusty cage and get teased by rowdy customers. That is one of the few options left, because Aya knows the breeder won’t take him back. In her blog post, she explains that when she first bought Bow the breeder wanted to make sure “that you won't bail out when the going gets tougher.”

We know that it is going to get tougher. It always does. And chimpanzee owners need to bail – regardless of what the breeder says as she takes the check.

There are few ways out, and Aya has closed the door to them. This is going to have a sad ending.