Chimp-Human Mental Illness

Two weeks ago, New York Magazine published an excellent article on Travis, the chimp who made headlines for ripping the face off of a woman in Connecticut in 2009. The article began where most articles that covered the gory event failed to tread: deep history. Intergenerational chimp and human history, that is. It covered what happened to Travis’s mother (she was taken from her own mother in Africa, who had been shot, presumably something her daughter watched happen) and his father (a retired circus chimp), Travis’ removal from his mother (who had been tranquilized in order to give him up) and his sale to the family that would ultimately raise him as something of a chimp/human hybrid. The human history that surrounded Travis was just as dramatic. And it is obvious in reading the complicated portrait of this multispecies family just how dysfunctional and dangerous it was all becoming.

One thing to note is that the magazine published the above photo (their caption read: “Travis with a Stamford police officer.”). What the article failed to mention is that this same officer, Frank Chiafari, profiled in the New York Times last February, was not just any Stamford police officer. He is the same officer who responded to the frantic 9-1-1 call during Travis’s attack. He is also suffering from depression and anxiety. He told the NYT: “I’d go to the mall and see women and imagine them without faces.” According to the article, he also wanted therapy but was denied a worker’s compensation claim. “The reason was that harrowing episodes involving a person — shooting a suspect, for example — would be covered but similar encounters with animals were not.”As someone who reads about plenty of chimps traumatized by violent interactions with humans (in labs, circuses, and elsewhere), it was sad and ironic to find out that Officer Chiafari was suffering the same thing.

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