Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chimp on the Lam

Chiafari. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

Reports of an escaped chimpanzee in Kansas City today had me thinking about another account of a monkey that went out of control.

You may have heard -- on Oprah or some other way -- about a February 2009 attack involving a domesticated chimpanzee and a Stamford, Conn., woman. Travis (the Chimp) was a former TV star who was fed human food, drank wine with his 71-year-old owner and was even fed Xanax.

The monkey -- perhaps in a drug-induced rage -- brutally attacked Charla Nash in the driveway of his owner, tearing off Nash's fingers and pummeling her face almost beyond recognition as a human being.

New York Times reporter Michael Wilson wrote in a February 2010 New York Times article that the officer who first arrived at the scene "pulled up to the house and saw a lump of clothing in the driveway. 'Then I realized it’s a human being,' (the officer) said. 'It was all ripped apart.'”
"Officer Chiafari and paramedics, who had been waiting in their vehicles for the chimp to leave, rushed to the body on the ground. 'She had no face,' (Chiafari) said. 'Her hands are off. There are thumbs and fingers all over the place.' He called out to her. 'I feel bad, but I was hoping she wasn’t conscious.'”

The reason Wilson's reporting is worth mentioning -- other than the story's novelty and its almost sickening descriptions -- is that its told in a unique way. As a follow-up story, Wilson uses the point of view of Frank Chiafari to portray the extremely traumatic episode.

The story (for me at least) raises several emotions:
  • Disgust, both in the brutality of the attack and the fact that a highly sophisticated primate like a chimpanzee would be so mistreated that he'd lash out in this way; and

  • Sympathy, for Chiafari, who, surprisingly was racked with guilt because of the attack. He'd been criticized by animal rights activists for killing the animal, and it seems that he had a lot of remorse himself for having to do so.
The story for me got at some of these emotions (particularly the latter) that you wouldn't necessarily expect. Good reporting by Wilson to find that deeper story and equally good writing on his part to tell it in a compelling way.

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