The reason for this is that for thousands of years, aggression toward human beings has been bred out of them. Even pit bulls, the current bogeymen of dog breeds, are often encouraged to tear other dogs to pieces, but are routinely destroyed if they display aggression toward human beings.
I once knew an animal trainer who told me that dogs are the only animals that genuinely like people. And they genuinely like us because they've been bred to do so. Genetic engineering didn't start with Dolly the sheep; we've been doing it for centuries, and it's why that cute Australian shepherd you just got from the pound tries to nip you in the side of the leg every morning when you get out of bed. It's a herding instinct over which he has virtually no control.
That same animal trainer was also a wrangler for the movie industry, and he was upset that day: He needed a chimpanzee. Mostly, he told me, he owned big cats: lions, tigers and a leopard that once tried to take his head off while doing the head-in-mouth circus trick. The leopard had been having an off day and decided to bite down. The man had four scars on his head where the cat's teeth had punctured his skull.
"So what's the big deal with a chimpanzee?" I asked.
"I'd rather work with a lion any day of the week."
But I'm thinking: Chimps, they're so cute. And they look so much like us.
The trainer went on to say that every chimpanzee I'd ever seen onscreen, from Tarzan movies to TV commercials, was an infant or a child. Once they hit puberty, they're impossible to work with: They're incredibly strong and smart, with agendas that have nothing to do with us.
This guy's bread and butter was making wild animals look cute for Hollywood. I realized even back then that all of the chimps he'd ever worked with were probably, by definition, neurotic: Any captive wild animal exhibits extreme behavior on occasion as a result of psychological stress. So I took what he said with a grain of salt--but it's been running through my mind a lot these days.
As has rage. And, oddly enough, the movie Borat.
The reason Borat is funny is that in not understanding the cultural rules of America, he makes continual faux pas. You don't bring livestock on public transportation in the U.S. of A., nor do you brag that your sister's the best prostitute in your country.
Last month, an adolescent pet chimpanzee in Connecticut mauled his owner's friend. It tore her face off in a manner similar to an attack by another chimp in California a couple of years ago, although that one mauled his victim's balls, too.
I now understand why my animal trainer didn't like working with chimps. But what I don't understand, given the facts of wild animals, is why anyone would mistake them for pets.
Chimpanzees are not more vicious than any other animal, but even seasoned researchers don't fully understand the rules they live by, and unlike with Borat, it's not funny when this lack of understanding goes awry.
Travis, the animal who perpetrated the attack, was kept by his owner as a surrogate child. He lived in the house, slept in her bed, surfed the Internet, and drank wine from a goblet and tea from a cup. When he got overwrought, she gave him Xanax. Yet people are vilifying the animal and his brethren.
Thus, my rage. Wild animals are not here to fulfill our corrupted and confused psychological needs. They are here because they are here. From Roy Horn, to performers flattened by orcas at Sea World, to Mrs. Nash (Travis' victim), there have persistently and inevitably been disastrous consequences resulting from this error.
The saddest part of all is that after Travis had been stabbed by his owner and shot by a policeman during the attack, instead of dropping dead in the street, he walked into his room in the house and died. He thought it was a safe place.
God. If only he had known.