Chimps, Gorillas, Monkeys at Home in the Jungle...or in Your Living Room?

Reality Bites
Mom, Dad, and Gorilla. (Photo: Robert Pratta/Reuters)
Jun 30, 2011· 2 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

A childless French couple has adopted a 265-pound gorilla, prompting the question: should the words “stay at home” ever appear before the word “primate”?

By day, the ape—her name is Digit—bides her time at a local zoo gorging on bananas (true), leafing through a dog-eared copy of Michael Crichton’s Congo (maybe true), and speed-climbing not-to-scale replicas of Manhattan skyscrapers (debatable veracity).

At night, she sleeps in the same bed as her adopted parents, Pierre and Elaine Thivillion, the owners of the Saint Martin la Plaine Zoo.

The Thivillions welcomed Digit into their home 13 years ago after her mother refused to breastfeed the infant, reports the BBC.

The herbivore’s rapport with the couple appears to be lovey-dovey.

"Thanks for the bananas, Dad." (Photo: Robert Pratta / Reuters)

“It’s going very well,” said Pierre. “We have a 13-year old relationship with Digit, so obviously we’ve created a strong bond with each other.”


...the unconventional domestic set-up should be viewed as nothing but a cautionary tale.

Just ask Sir Isaac Newton, who wrote: for every primate-shacking-with-a-human-story-that-makes-you-go-awwww-at-your-cubicle-during-your-lunch-break, there is an equal and opposite violent anecdote that should force you to respect the inner animal of these wild beasts.

March 2005. West Covina, California. St. James Davis and his wife LaDonna were visiting Animal Haven Ranch to celebrate the thirty-ninth birthday of their house-trained chimpanzee, Mo. He had been removed from their suburban Los Angeles home years earlier after biting off a woman’s finger. When the couple approached Mo’s cage with his birthday cake, two other chimps, Ollie and Buddy, attacked St. James. The 62-year-old somehow survived a litany of gruesome injuries, which included the chimps chewing off most of his face, tearing off his foot, and mutilating his genitals.

February 2009. Stamford, Connecticut. A 200-pound chimp named Travis mauled his owner's friend, Charla Davis, ripping off her nose, lips, eyelids, and hands before being shot and killed by police. The paramedic who treated Nash told the New York Times that he had "never seen anything this dramatic on a living patient.” Earlier this month, Davis underwent successful, 20-hour surgery—performed by 30 doctors—to give her a new face.

Still thinking of dialing 1-800-PRIMATE to order your very own live-in simian?

Heed the wise warning of the experts.

"The whole idea of anybody wanting to entertain keeping any wild animal is just an accident waiting to happen," said Carol Asvestas, director of Wild Animal Orphanage in San Antonio, to the USA Today in 2009 after the Davis attack.

“A chimp in your home is like a time bomb,” said Frans De Waal, lead biologist from the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, to Scientific American. “It may go off for a reason that we may never understand. I don't know any chimp relationship that has been harmonious.”

“A chimpanzee can never be totally domesticated,” wrote the Yoda of Primates, Jane Goodall, in a thought-provoking 2009 Los Angeles Times op-ed.

Motivated by Nash’s mauling, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in February 2009 to ban interstate trade of apes and monkeys.

The bill—which has stalled in the Senate—aims to cut off the supply line for the roughly 15,000 primates privately owned in the U.S.

If, after all this, you still have a hankering to invite a primate into your home, buy a copy of Curious George.

Worst case scenario? Paper cut.