Animal Welfare: Primates require specialized care of professionals

 In Louisiana, there’s a historical reason for sharing such a view as this. Until recently, our state had the dubious distinction of being only one of two states that allowed for the inhumane and brutal practice of cockfighting. After many years of pushing for a change in state law and an important public awareness campaign, this practice was finally outlawed through legislation passed by the Louisiana State Legislature. I was an active supporter of this important legislation, and I also worked with a bipartisan group of congressional members to make it much more difficult to transport these animals across state lines for fighting.

Of course, there is much more to animal safety than ending the practice of animal fighting, and that is why I am also working with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) on a bipartisan effort to pass the Captive Primate Safety Act. This legislation would prohibit interstate and foreign commerce in primates sold as pets.

Earlier this year, we were all shocked by a national news story about a Connecticut woman named Charla Nash who was brutally attacked by a pet chimpanzee. Although the animal had worked with people for all of his life, he had begun to show some violent tendencies as he grew older. Despite this, the chimp had remained in the care of his private owner until the day he attacked Ms. Nash — a visiting friend of the animal’s owner — and left her blinded with horrific injuries, including the loss of her hands and a significant portion of her face.

Following the attack, the chimp was shot and killed by police when he tried to attack some of the responding officers. What this tragic story reveals is that the practice of keeping exotic animals as pets, especially primates, is a danger to their owners, other people and the animal itself.

Although young primates appear cute and humanlike, they can grow to become dangerous and aggressive adults with incredible strength. Primates can react to unnatural environments in an unpredictable manner, making them potentially dangerous to humans and other animals, as we saw in tragic Connecticut case.

Primates can also transmit dangerous diseases to humans, including tuberculosis, yellow fever and other serious diseases. They require specialized care to help ensure that they do not spread such diseases, which can be fatal to the animals and to humans who come in contact with them.

That is why primates should be cared for by people properly trained to handle them, and the care they require cannot always be provided by pet owners who have little or no specialized training when it comes to these animals.

We already have a federal law preventing the transportation of other animals like lions, tigers and other big cats for the pet trade across state lines and national borders. This bill simply aims to add primates to the current list of prohibited species.

At least 20 states prohibit keeping primates as pets, and federal health regulations prohibit importing primates into the country for the pet trade. But this legislation is needed to complement state laws and to help protect the laws of those 20 states that are trying to keep pet primates outside their borders. This bill would also provide an important tool for law enforcement to be more effective in managing the transportation, trade and care of primates in the United States.

Primates are complex and potentially dangerous animals, and they should be treated as such. In order to ensure the safety of animals and humans alike, primates should only be cared for by those individuals with the proper training needed to meet their unique needs. An enraged or frightened primate can be extremely dangerous if provoked, but we can prevent future tragedies by prohibiting these animals from being kept as pets. By doing so, we can protect our fellow citizens and set an example that can help ensure the proper and careful treatment of all animals.

Vitter is a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and the subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard.