When Animals Attack - Travis the Chimp

Travis the Chimp and his victim, Charla Nash
Travis the Chimp and his victim, Charla Nash | Source

At one time, Travis the Chimp was the most famous Chimpanzee in America. He appeared in television commercials, daytime talk shows and even a television pilot.

He was adopted by Sandra Herold when he was just three days young, and she and her husband raised the chimp as if he was their son.

People in their small Connecticut town loved Travis the Chimp because he acted like an intelligent child who loved to put on a show.

If you would have had the opportunity to meet the animal you might have been tempted to think that he was tame and perfectly safe - as did most people who came into contact with him.

However . . . it is important to remember that wild animals like chimpanzees cannot be completely tamed to domestication, they can only be socialized. One simply cannot take the wild streak out of chimps, and no one knows that better than Charla Nash.

Nash was best friends with Travis' owner/mom, Sandra Herold, and she paid a terrible price for her friendship when the chimp broke character and completely mauled her face.

Watch The Chimp Attack Story on Animal Planet's "Fatal Attraction"

Sandra Herold & Travis the Chimp

Sandra and Jerome Herlod lived in the city of Stamford, Connecticut with their young son. The couple took in the baby chimpanzee after his mother was shot and killed in a chimp sancturary in Missouri.

The Herold's quicky grew attached to Travis and he could be seen in public with the couple as they went about their day as the owners of a car towing company.

In fact, Travis became very familiar to Stamford police officers because they were in constant contact with the Herold's due to the nature of their business.

Intelligent Creature

As Travis matured, he displayed signs of intelligence - he would open doors with keys, he dined with his family, he appreciated wine, he could fully dress himself, he was able to water the household plants, and he fed the Herold's horses.

Travis had a particular penchant for ice cream, and he grew to anticipate the schedule of neighborhood ice cream trucks.

Even more remarkably, Travis the Chimp was able to brush his teeth, utilize a remote control to watch the television, and he even drove the family car several times.

The Herold's had grown so used to the chimpanzee until they considered him to be a son and raised him in close quarters alongside their son.

Tragedy Strikes the Herold Household

In 2003, the Herold's young son was killed in an automobile accident. Then a year later, Jerome Herold took ill and he succumbed to cancer.

These tragic turn of events caused Sandra to grow closer to Travis, and she was known to be sleeping and bathing with the chimp.

Hints that a Wild Animal May Lurk Beneath the Surface

Despite Travis' seemingly domesticated behavior, there were several incidents where the loveable pet was accused of animal attack.

  • A woman claimed to have been bitten by Travis
  • A young man was chased by Travis after he threw something at the Herold's car and struck the chimp. He did not catch the young man, but he held up traffic and constantly chased police.
  • Experts agree that chimpanzees have the propensity for far greater violence than even gorillas

The Horrific Attack on Charla Nash

In mid 2009, Sandra Herold contacted her friend Charla Nash to help her wrangle Herold's car keys. Travis had taken the keys and ran out of the house.

As soon as Travis laid eyes on Charla, he viciously attacked her. The 911 call fron Sandra Herold told a chilling tail of the sequence of events.

As Travis laid waste to Charla's face and hands, Sandra pleaded with the 911 operator for help. She had hit the animal with a shovel and stabbed him with a butcher knife in an attempt to get him off of her friend, but this only served to further anger the animal and he began eating Charla.

When police arrived, the wild chimp greeted them at their car and an officer shot him. Travis then ran into the house, where he died next to his cage.

Charla Nash's injuries shocked even paramedics who were used to encountering gruesome and grisly scences.

She later underwent hours of surgeries to repair her hands and face. In another testament to the extraordinarily gory nature of Nash's injuries, the hospital staff members who attended to her had to undergo counseling as a result of the massive nature of the woman's injuries.

Nash lost several parts of her face, and her brain tisssue was scarred. In November of 2009, she appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show in order to reveal the extent of her injuries.

You can see the aftermath photos below, but I caution you that it is not a pretty sight . . .

Aftermath

After the attack, Sandra Herold was hit with a $50 millin dollar lawsuit. It eventually surfaced that Travis the Chimp had been suffereng from Lyme Disease, and he had been given medication (Xanax) that could have possibly attributed to the violent attack on Charla Nash.

There was also some discrepancy as to the validity of the two previous violent attacks , and Herold's defense claimed that travis had shown no violent tendencies before the grisly incident.

In May of 2010, Sandra Herold died of a ruptured aortic aneurysm. The last years of her life were riddled with tragic events in the form of the deaths of her child, husband, and Travis, the mauling of her friend Charla Nash, and the subsequent lawsuit.

Her attorney stated that her heart could take no more. Sandra Herold was 72 years of age.

Travis the chimp was autopsied, and a significant amount of Xanax was indeed found in his system.

Travis the Chimp and Sandy Herold's grandson, Andrew
Travis the Chimp and Sandy Herold's grandson, Andrew

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Comments 11 comments

2besure profile image

2besure 5 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

OMG what a horrible, devastating attack. People just don't seem to understand that some animals are not to be made pets.


shea duane profile image

shea duane 5 years ago from new jersey

You did such a sensitive job of telling this story. You are such a good writer, clear and precise. Yet your writing is very caring. This is a tragic story, and this is the first time I've read it written by someone who wasn't harsh and hard-hearted. Thank you.


Arlene V. Poma 5 years ago

I did remember the woman's interview. Some people don't know how dangerous it is to expect a wild animal to be domesticated. Unfortunately, this woman paid for her friend's stupidity by being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Voted up.


Rachelle Williams profile image

Rachelle Williams 5 years ago from Tempe, AZ Author

@ 2besure - This is true, some people are driven toward trying to make pets of dangerous animals, even when they realize the threat - it's an odd sort of thing.

@ shea duane - Thank you so much for your kind words, I tried to be sensitive because it is such a tragic story for everyone in volved.

@ Arlene V. Poma - Thank you for the vote up.


IsadoraPandora profile image

IsadoraPandora 5 years ago from Florida, PCB

Great Hub!

First I heard about the Xanax thing. It isn't good for people OR animals. Poor lady having lost her family. That must have driven her a bit mad. :( I remember watching that Oprah show. It was really sad.

I'd have rattler before I'd get a chimp. especially with kids around. :/


Rachelle Williams profile image

Rachelle Williams 5 years ago from Tempe, AZ Author

@IsadoraPandora - yes, that Xanax thing is interesting isn't it? I don't think I would have Chimp or Rattler around my kids, but if I had to choose between the two . . .I guess I'd choose the snake.


justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 5 years ago from Texas

In the incident in which Travis reacted to having a bottle thrown at him when riding in the truck, police simply surrounded the area until he settled down and got back in the truck, and they stated that he did not seem to be a threat; however, following that incident, he was not allowed to travel (ride in a car or truck) again - ever!

After Mr. Nash died, Mrs. Nash & Ms. Harold took a trip to Las Vegas together, leaving Travis home. (Presumably someone came in to attend to him). A few days after they returned, Travis made it clear that he wanted to go somewhere, too by taking the car keys and attempting to get in the car.

Mrs. Nash gave him a glass of wine & a Xanax; however, Travis went back outside and paced in the yard anxiously. Mrs. Nash called Ms. Harold to come over and help her. Ms. Harold arrived and entered the front gate holding an Elmo doll over her face (thinking Travis would like the Elmo doll).

I believe Travis was affected by the drug and the wine, grieving for his "Dad" and possibly jealous and confused because he was no longer allowed to go anywhere, yet his "Mom" and her friend had just returned from a trip. Also, he may not have realized that the person entering the yard was Ms.Harold until it was too late.

It's amazing that the Nashes were able to do as much with Travis as they did, since they had no experience or training in primate care. They should never have been allowed to have him in the first place. They simply didn't know what they were doing and didn't have adequate facilities to care for him as he matured and testosterone inevitably kicked in.

Also, the information I have read about him says that they "ordered" him from a primate breeder. He was not rescued from being an orphan. He was taken from his mother and bought as a surrogate baby/pet. This is a very bad situation that should never be allowed to happen.

We should not be allowed to purchase our closest relatives in the animal kingdom or any other exotic creatures as if they were simply property. There must be system in place that assures that the circumstances in which they will be kept will be safe, secure and nurturing if private exotic animal care is to be allowed at all.


IsadoraPandora profile image

IsadoraPandora 5 years ago from Florida, PCB

Yea Rachelle, at least if I smash the rattlers head, it dies pretty quickly. :-(


Cat R profile image

Cat R 5 years ago from North Carolina, U.S.

No matter how well we may mean it, he was a wild animal and didn't deserve to live like that. Especially when one does some research on them and sees how they live in the wild. He deserved to live either in the wild or in a natural environment!


justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 5 years ago from Texas

I'm sorry, I confused the names of the people, which is something I tend to do in day-to-day life as well! :D

I meant that the other way around, of course! The Herold's were Travis' keepers and Ms. Nash was attacked! I'm good with facts and concepts and not so great with dates and names! My apologies! :)


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 4 years ago from New York

Unfortunately this incident has led to many questioning people's rights of owning any animal that the public is not familiar with.

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