Travis the Chimpanzee was a beloved figure in the small town of Stamford Connecticut. As far as chimps go, Travis was quite talented. He could open doors using keys, dress himself, feed his owners horses, drink wine from a fancy stemmed wine glass, he could even drive a car. Undoubtedly, Travis the Chimpanzee was no ordinary animal. This is the sad story of such an amazing primate.
Early Life – Travis the Famous Chimp
Travis was born in the small town of Festus, Missouri on October 21, 1995. About 30 miles outside of St. Louis lies the Missouri Chimpanzee Sanctuary, a zoo reminiscent of the tiger sanctuaries featured in Netflix’s Tiger King. The sanctuary exists to breed, raise, and sometimes sell these mammals to buyers around the country. Jerome and Sandra Herold were one of these buyers.
When Travis was just three days old the Herold’s drove out to Festus to purchase the baby Chimpanzee and bring him home to Stamford. Ove the next 8 years the family raised Travis as one of their own. They taught him to brush his teeth, eat at the dinner table, and do household chores. He even developed a love for baseball and could often be found, remote in hand, flipping through the channels trying to find a live game.
Travis’ talents earned him a life of fame both locally and nationally. The local police were known to pick Travis up for ride alongs in their cruisers. He also learned the schedule of the ice cream trucks in the area and met them for a cold treat regularly. He was even featured in several TV shows and commercials including The Maury Povich Show, The Man Show, and advertisements for Pepsi and Old Navy.
Over time, however, Sandra’s pampering of Travis reached extreme heights. Sandra suffered the loss of her only child in a car accident and later the death of her husband after a battle with cancer in 2004. She turned to Travis to give all her remaining love and affection. For many years life with the ape progressed without issue, with the exception of one small incident in October of 2003.
The First Incident
On one occasion Travis burst into a bought of rage while on a leisurely drive with the family. A pedestrian threw something into the open car window next to the primate and struck him. Travis immediately unbuckled his seatbelt, jumped out of the car, and chased the pedestrian up and down the street. Even though he could not catch his assailant Travis remained in a heightened state for several hours blocking traffic and causing disturbances.
The police attempted to lure Travis in the cruisers but to no avail. Whenever they were successful at leading the ape into the car he would simply scoot to the other door, let himself out and proceed to chase the officers around their vehicle. Eventually Travis calmed and returned home. As a result of the incident, The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection passed a new law banning residents from owning primates weighing more than 50 pounds. However, local governments deemed that Travis did not pose a significant safety risk since he had lived in the city for so long. This decision would prove fatal.
The Second Incident
On February 16th, 2009 Travis attacked Sandra’s friend Charla Nash. The attack would leave devastating injuries to Nash’s face and limbs. Charla arrived that afternoon to help Sandra coax Travis back inside after he had escaped. She tried to entice him by holding up one of his favorite toys, a tickle me Elmo doll. At that moment, something switched and Travis attacked Nash.
Sandra desperately tried to stop the primate even resorting to hitting him over the head with a shovel and stabbing him with a butcher knife. In a later interview Harold detailed how difficult those moments were, “For me to do something like that – put a knife in him – was like putting one in myself.” When the police arrived on the scene Travis turned towards the officer and continued his assault. The cop shot Travis several times killing him on the spot.
In the years since the attack investigators have struggled to explain what led the usually peaceful Chimp to attack. Many theories have been posed including Charla’s new hair style, Travis new Lyme Disease medication, the use of the Tickle Me Elmo doll and many others. The lesson stands, wild animals are just that wild animals. No matter how long they remain peaceful they have the ability to cause serious injury.
Nash underwent extensive surgeries, initially to save her life and eventually to repair the physical damage of the attack. She had lost her hands, nose, eyes, lips and suffered severe brain damage. Nash received transplant surgeries to restore the structure of face and her lost limbs. Before and after her surgeries Charla appeared on The Oprah Winfrey show to raise awareness of the dangers of holding these sorts of animals, a cause she champions to this day.
The sad case of Travis the Chimpanzee is a lesson to those considering a wild animal as a pet: don’t.