Apes on Drugs

The necropsy results for Travis the chimp came in this week. They verified that he had been sedated with Alprazolam, better known as Xanax. The drug is used to reduce anxiety in humans. Travis’s owner, Sandra Herold, told reporters she’d served him tea laced with Xanax in her efforts to calm him down the day of the attack, but she later seemed to retract that statement.

Alprazolam has been linked with unpredictable aggression, hostility, and loss of inhibitions in human patients. Most notoriously, it was found in the body of professional wrestler Chris Benoit, who murdered his wife and child before committing suicide in 2007. (The drug, however, was only one of several dangerous factors that could have played a role in that case.) Its reported side-effects in humans include suicidal thinking, hallucinations, rage, mania, agitation, and hyperactivity. What it might do to a chimp is unclear, though it seems obvious that no drug with potential effects like these ought to be given to a powerful animal.

But there’s a problem with blaming a drug for the Stamford attack: it was normal chimpanzee behavior. Or, at least, normal behavior for a chimp in captivity. Experts have known for a long time that chimps and other primates aren’t suitable housemates for humans, but the general public has only begun to understand this in the last few years, since the mauling of St. James Davis in California in 2005. The Associated Press reports that many chimp owners are trying to find room for their pets in sanctuaries since the Stamford attack, but the sanctuaries are too crowded.


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