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The Real Chimps of New York

I was getting ready for bed the other night wondering how I was going to sleep. I had chimps on my mind. I had read about the incident in Connecticut in the newspaper; a 200-pound 14-year-old chimpanzee attacked a woman and had to be shot. The story was even more frightening than I expected and left a lot to the imagination.

The chimp was said to be feeling rambunctious on his last day. He was in his house, a regular house shared with his owner, and snuck off with the owner’s keys to unlock the door and let himself out. The 70-year old owner called a friend to come help corral him. She arrived via car, got out of the car, and the chimpanzee just had at her in a devastating animalistic silence of the lambs kind of way. The owner grabbed a kitchen knife, stabbing the chimp to get him to stop. He would not. She called 911. The police arrived. The chimp took off the passenger’s side mirror of the police cruiser with one swipe. Then seeing an officer in the driver’s seat the chimp went around to that side of the car, opened the door, and set on the officer.

I once photographed a chimpanzee. It’s not the kind of job you want to fess up to having done. I was just starting out and doing work for an academic client. One of the professors was having a birthday party for his daughter and my client twisted my arm to help out the professor by photographing the party. The event for the party was the visit of a trained chimpanzee not unlike the one in the story above. The chimpanzee came from Long Island; did commercials, movies, parties on the side, and had business cards. The chimp was probably a better set up business than I was at the time.

The apartment was a typical New York City more contemporary apartment. A long hallway with bedrooms and a bathroom off it, a larger room that was a combination of living room and dining room. I have no memory of how the kids reacted or whether they enjoyed the entertainment. What I do remember is feeling terrified. The chimpanzee came out of a back room and into the long dark hallway. The owner was holding his hand. The chimp was on roller skates and when he entered the larger room where the party was the owner let go. The chimp started circling the room, drawing a perimeter around the kids. I’m sure he did stuff. I’m sure had sat down at some point and made silly faces. I’m sure the kids laughed. But what I remember most is him skating around the room faster and faster, his long arms flailing about, skating with an erratic rocking pattern, and the fear brought on by the sense of the lack of control in the room.

The day after I read about the current story I saw on my browser home page a link to CNN’s story of the situation. Since it was a day later, they had the 911 call to hear. That’s alright, I don’t need to go there.

February 26, 2009 – Article in the New York Times, My Monkey, My Self, on people who keep monkeys and apes as pets. Disturbing to say the least.


  1. Josh

    As soon as news of this story broke I knew it would be pretty horrifying. One of those things about which I didn’t want to know the exact details, especially after being menaced by monkeys this past summer. Oddly enough, a few hours after I read your entry this morning (yes, I’m a little behind on my reading), I heard an NPR “This American Life” rerun about chimpanzee retirement homes. Really interesting – it’s the last piece (Act 3) on this show.

  2. Thanks for the link, I’ll check it out. Forgot about your run-in this summer.

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