Another Chimpanzee Attack


A pet chimpanzee has inflicted what police call "life-threatening" and "life-changing" injuries on a 55-year-old woman. That last phrase would seem to refer to the fact that the chimp bit off the woman's hands and devastated her face. The attack took place in Stamford, Connecticut, and the victim was a family friend well acquainted with the chimp.

TV news reports have already latched onto a couple of "explanations." One is Lyme disease; the ape was being treated for it. A doctor interviewed for one of these stories claims the disease can cause psychotic behavior in people. The ape had apparently been behaving badly all day, and in fact the victim had come to help calm him. Still, this doesn't really look like psychotic behavior so much as ordinary chimp behavior. Adult chimps, especially males, are simply prone to solve their problems, and even their passing irritations, with violence. Dozens of violent encounters, both in zoos and in the wild, attest this. Most readers probably became aware of the danger chimps pose only when the story of St James Davis hit the news a few years back. Davis was disfigured and left near death when chimps escaped from a wildlife refuge where he was visiting his own poet chimp, which had been removed from his home after some violent episodes of its own. That incident was especially horrific in its details, but not inconsistent with other examples of chimp behavior.

On the other hand, there's the question of psychotropic drugs. Some reports mention that the owner tried to tranquilize the ape with Xanax. I also wonder what it means that he was under treatment for Lyme disease. It's a real disease that can be effectively treated in its early stages, but it is also a controversial diagnosis for patients with long-term immune dysfunctions. In other words, a lot of people diagnosed with Lyme's probably don't have it, but they end up heavily medicated on dubious evidence.

I wonder who diagnosed this ape and what sort of medication he was given. I'm not impugning anyone, but these factors are relevant to behavior. Our medical system often leads to people being medicated inappropriately with psychotropics that can influence them to psychotic behavior. If somebody's giving these dubious medications to semi-wild animals--well, it's a recipe for disaster.

News Report
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