Festus, Missouri, U.S.
|Died||February 16, 2009 (aged 13-14)
North Stamford, Connecticut, U.S.
|Notable role||Pet, occasional actor|
|Known for||Attack on owner's friend|
|Owner||Jerome Herold (deceased)
Sandra Herold (deceased)
|Parents||Suzy (mother) (deceased)|
|Weight||200 pounds (91 kg)|
Travis (1995-2009) was a male common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) who appeared in American television shows and commercials. In February 2009, Travis and his owner Sandra Herold gained international notoriety after he suddenly attacked Herold's friend Charla Nash and grievously mauled her, blinding her while severing her nose, ears, and both hands, and severely lacerating her face. He was subsequently shot dead on the arrival of the police, after trying to attack an officer.
As an animal actor, Travis had appeared in several television commercials, including spots for Coca-Cola and Old Navy. He had also appeared on The Maury Povich Show, The Man Show, and a television pilot that featured Sheryl Crow and Michael Moore.
Travis was born near Festus, Missouri, at Mike and Connie Braun Casey's compound, currently named the Missouri Chimpanzee Sanctuary. In a separate incident, Travis' mother Suzy was shot and killed following an escape in 2001. Sandra and Jerome Herold adopted Travis when he was three days old. They raised him at their home at Rock Rimmon Road in the North Stamford section of Stamford, Connecticut. Travis was the Herolds' constant companion and would often accompany them to work and when they went shopping in town. The Herolds owned a towing company, and Travis would pose for photos at the shop and ride with the tow truck, his seatbelt buckled and wearing a baseball shirt. Travis became well known in the town and had been known to greet police officers they would encounter when towing cars.
Having grown up among people Travis had been socialized to humans since birth. A neighbor said he used to play around with Travis and wrestle with him. He said the animal always knew when to stop and paid close attention to its owner. "He listened better than my nephews", the neighbor said, after Travis had mauled Nash. "I just don't know why he would do that".
Travis could open doors using keys, dress himself, water plants, feed hay to his owners' horses, eat at a table with the rest of the family, and drink wine from a stemmed glass; he was so fond of ice cream that he learned the schedules of passing ice cream trucks. He logged onto the computer to look at pictures, watched television using a remote control, and brushed his teeth using a Water Pik. He enjoyed watching baseball on television. Travis had also driven a car on several occasions.
Jerome died from cancer in 2004, and the Herolds' only child died in a car accident; as a result, Sandra Herold regarded Travis almost as a son and pampered him. Sandra slept and bathed with Travis saying, "I'm, like, hollow now. He slept with me every night. Until you've eaten with a chimp and bathed with a chimp, you don't know a chimp."
Chimpanzees possess great strength. Male Pan troglodytes, once past puberty, exhibit increasingly violent behavior as they age and are much more aggressive than gorillas. They attack faces and other projections of the body, biting and pulling with their hands and feet.
After the 2009 incident became an international news story, a woman who had lived in the same area as Travis claimed that in 1996 the chimpanzee had bitten her hand and tried to pull her into a vehicle as she greeted him. She claimed to have complained to the Herolds and to police. The police have stated they have no records of any such complaint.
In October 2003, Travis escaped from the Herolds' car and held up traffic at a busy intersection, and was free for several hours. The incident began after a pedestrian threw something at the car that went through a partially open window and struck Travis while they were stopped at a traffic light. Startled, Travis unbuckled his seat belt, opened the car door and chased the man, but did not catch him. When police arrived, they lured the chimpanzee into the car several times only to have Travis let himself out of another door and occasionally chase the officers around the car. The 2003 incident led to the passing of a Connecticut law prohibiting people from keeping primates weighing more than 50 pounds as pets and requiring owners of exotic pets to apply for a permit. The new law took effect in 2004, and as of Travis's death, no one in the state had applied to adopt a chimpanzee. The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection did not enforce the law on the Herolds because they had owned 200-pound Travis for so long and because the DEP did not believe Travis posed a public safety risk.
On February 16, 2009, Travis attacked Sandra Herold's 55-year-old friend Charla Nash, inflicting devastating injuries to her face and limbs. Travis had left the house with the Herolds' car keys, and Nash came to help get the animal back in the house; upon seeing Nash, Travis immediately attacked her. Travis was familiar with Nash, who had also worked at the Herolds' towing company, although Nash had a different hair style at the time of the attack. The chimp had been taking medication for Lyme disease. Herold, then 70 years old, attempted to stop Travis by hitting him with a shovel and stabbing him with a butcher knife. "For me to do something like that – put a knife in him – was like putting one in myself," Herold later said. The chimp turned around, she said, as if to say, "'Mom, what did you do?'" The animal was angered more. Herold then called 9-1-1 and pleaded for help. Travis' screams can be heard in the background of the tape as Sandra pleads for police, who initially believed the call to be a hoax, until she started screaming, "He's eating her!" Emergency medical services waited for police before approaching the house. Travis walked up to the police car when it arrived, tried to open a locked passenger door, and smashed a side-view mirror. Then he went calmly around to the driver's-side door and opened it, at which point Officer Frank Chiafari shot him several times. Travis retreated to the house, where he was found dead next to his cage.
The emergency crew described Nash's injuries as "horrendous". Within the following 72 hours, Nash underwent more than seven hours of surgery on her face and hands by four teams of surgeons. The hospital provided counseling to its staff members who initially treated her because of the extraordinary nature of Nash's wounds. Paramedics noted she lost her hands, nose, eyes, lips, and mid-face bone structure, and received significant brain tissue injuries. Doctors successfully reattached her jaw, but announced on April 7, 2009 that Nash would be blind for life. Her injuries made her a possible candidate for an experimental face transplant surgery. After initial treatment at Stamford Hospital, Nash was transferred to the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. Her family started a trust fund to raise money to pay her "unfathomable" medical bills and support her daughter. Nash revealed her damaged face in public for the first time on The Oprah Winfrey Show on November 11, 2009. She was not at that time in physical pain from the attack, and family members said she hoped to leave the Cleveland Clinic soon. Pictures have surfaced on the Internet displaying Nash's face before and after the attack.
In June 2011, Nash underwent transplant surgery performed by a team led by Dr. Bohdan Pomahač at the Harvard teaching affiliate, Brigham and Women's Hospital, receiving a donated face and hands. The hands transplant was successful, but because Nash developed pneumonia shortly thereafter, doctors were forced to remove her newly transplanted hands due to the infection and resulting poor circulation.
In accordance with standard procedure, Travis' head was taken to the state laboratory for a rabies test, and the body was taken to the University of Connecticut for a necropsy. The head tested negative for rabies, but there was Xanax remaining in his system. Necropsy results in May 2009 confirmed the chimp was overweight and had been stabbed. The remains were cremated at All Pets Crematory in Stamford on February 25, 2009.
Toxicology reports confirmed Sandra's statement that she had given Travis Xanax-laced tea the day of the attack, which could have exacerbated his aggression. Xanax (Alprazolam) is a short acting potent anti-anxiety drug that can cause disinhibition and disorientation and occasionally paradoxical reactions of hallucination, aggression, rage and mania.
In March 2009, an attorney for Charla Nash's family filed a $50 million lawsuit against Sandra Herold. On May 6, a Stamford judge froze Herold's assets, valued at $10 million. Other potential defendants include the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, the city of Stamford, and the veterinarian who prescribed the Xanax. The defense claimed the chimp had no violent behavior before the attack, and the two accusations in the 1990s attacks were untrue because the chimp had no teeth at the time.
On May 25, 2010, 15 months after the attack, the Associated Press reported that Sandra Herold had died of a ruptured aortic aneurysm at the age of 72. Her attorney, Robert Golger, released the following statement: "Ms. Herold had suffered a series of heartbreaking losses over the last several years, beginning with the death of her daughter who was killed in a car accident, then her husband, then her beloved chimp Travis, as well as the tragic maiming of friend and employee Charla Nash. In the end, her heart, which had been broken so many times before, could take no more."
In November 2012, Nash reached a settlement with Herold's estate and received approximately $4 million.
Nash attempted to sue the state of Connecticut in 2013 but was denied permission. She had asserted that officials knew the animal was dangerous but did nothing about it. Nash's petition to sue was denied on the basis that at the time of her attack, no statute existed that prohibited the private ownership of a chimpanzee. In July 2013, Nash's attorneys began efforts to appeal the court's decision.
Travis' escape and subsequent attack of Charla Nash were used as part of the "Chimps" episode of the Animal Planet 2010-2011 documentary series: Fatal Attractions. Sound from the original 9-1-1 call, radio traffic from the police shooting of Travis, and the aftermath of the hunt were used in the episode.
News reports of the incident spread as far as Ireland and China. The attack, similar to another chimpanzee attack four years earlier in California, provoked discussion about the wisdom of keeping such exotic animals as pets by sources such as TIME magazine and primatologists Jane Goodall and Frans de Waal. Afterward, PETA members allegedly harassed Herold, although the organization stated that it did not have any official involvement.
The incident inspired controversy over a political cartoon: On February 18, 2009, the New York Post published a piece by Sean Delonas depicting a police officer with a smoking gun, standing over the corpse of a chimpanzee, and commenting to a fellow officer, "They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill." The comic's publication triggered media and other commentary which purported a link between the cartoon's chimpanzee and the stimulus bill's champion, President Barack Obama, and racial overtones relating to African Americans' being portrayed as non-human apes. On February 24, 2009, the owner and Chairman of the Post, Rupert Murdoch, apologized for the cartoon.
Reality television actress Kim Kardashian received criticism for posting photos of her family with a three-year-old chimpanzee on her blog only days after the attack. The chimpanzee had been rented for her television show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Kardashian apologized and noted, "I understand my timing was not appropriate, and it was insensitive of me. What happened to the woman that was attacked by the chimpanzee was devastating. In no way did I mean to insult or offend anyone by posting these pictures."
Frank Chiafari, the police officer who fatally shot Travis, was initially unable to get his therapy for depression and anxiety covered after the incident. This led to legislation proposed in 2010 that would cover compensation for mental or emotional impairment after killing an animal when under threat of deadly force.
Influence on legislation
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal noted that a defect in the existing 2004 Connecticut law prohibiting chimpanzees of Travis' size, itself a result of the 2003 incident, allowed the attack to occur. A Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokesman clarified that Travis was exempt because he did not appear to present a public health risk and was owned before the registration requirement began. Blumenthal subsequently sent letters to legislative leaders and the DEP Commissioner, asking them to support a proposed law that would ban all potentially dangerous exotic animals, such as chimpanzees, crocodiles, and venomous snakes, from being kept in a residential setting in Connecticut. The DEP was seeking a similar law banning large primates and, after the incident, announced that it sought the help of the public, police officers, and animal control officers to report such pets to the agency. The editorial board of The Advocate newspaper in Stamford also advocated banning the possession of all exotic birds and reptiles.
U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer introduced the Captive Primate Safety Act introduced on January 6, 2009, which would have added monkeys, great apes, and lemurs to the list of "prohibited wildlife species" that cannot be sold or purchased through interstate and foreign sales. The attack led the Humane Society of the United States to join with the Wildlife Conservation Society in supporting the Act. Travis' attack resulted in the bill's reintroduction by co-sponsor, Rep. Mark Kirk, on February 23, 2009. Rep. Rob Bishop argued against the bill during the floor debate, noting it would cost $4 million annually and do nothing directly to prevent chimpanzee attacks on humans. He also claimed such attacks are relatively rare. Twenty states and the District of Columbia already have laws banning primates as pets. On February 23, 2009, the House voted 323 to 95 in favor of the bill, and the editorial boards of several major newspapers, including The New York Times and Newsday, supported its passage. The bill was never taken up by the US Senate.
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- Charla Nash Trust, a trust set up for the woman attacked by Travis in 2009
- The Hartford Courant, a small photo gallery in The Hartford Courant's web site, showing Herold, Travis, and Nash
- YouTube Video of Fatal Attractions Incident of Travis (Chimpanzee)