03/26/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Step Toward Human and Primate Safety

Last week in Connecticut, we had a tragic example of how reckless and dangerous keeping primates as pets can be. A chimpanzee that had been treated like a member of the household snapped. We still don't know exactly what transpired, or exactly why. What we know are the results, the animal was killed, people were horribly maimed, police officers attacked. Primates are wild animals, keeping them in our homes and our communities poses a serious threat to public safety and public health. In light of this horrific attack, we must move forward with legislation to prohibit the interstate trade of these animals, for human and animal welfare.

The importation of primates into the United States for the pet trade has been banned by Federal regulation since 1975. Although twenty states prohibit keeping primates as pets and many others require permits, these animals are bred in the United States and are readily available for purchase from exotic animal dealers and even over the internet. Because of the importation laws, there remains an active domestic trade in these animals.

Primates pose serious risks; they can transmit diseases, and inflict serious physical harm. These risks are increased by interstate transport of the animals. Even in states where it is legal to keep primates, most people cannot provide the special care, housing, and social structure these animals require.

That's why I introduced the Captive Primate Safety Act to amend the Lacey Act Amendments of 1981. This bill would add primates to the list of animals that cannot be transported across state lines. It would prohibit the import, export, transportation, sale, receipt, acquisition, or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce of nonhuman primates in order to safeguard public health and safety and protect the welfare of monkeys, apes (which include chimpanzees and orangutans), marmosets and lemurs. The bill is similar to the Captive Wildlife Safety Act, which Congress passed unanimously in 2003 to ban interstate commerce in lions, tigers, and other big cats for the pet trade.

In the 110th Congress, the Captive Primate Safety Act received strong support from Dr. Jane Goodall, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and The Humane Society of the United States. When this bill was last introduced in Congress, Republicans mocked the legislation on the House Floor, and 96 members of their party voted against the measure. Lat week's attack-more than ever-shows the time has come for these Republicans to prioritize the health of both humans and primates over the desire to maintain a partisan divide. This legislation is a step in the right direction, it preserves the jurisdiction of states while giving federal law enforcement the discretion to crack down on the interstate sale of primates as pets. This will help stem the tide of these potentially dangerous animals going into our communities to better protect our families and to better ensure the safety of the animals.