Charla Nash, whose face was disfigured by a chimpanzee attack, was on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday advocating for legal changes that would make it harder to keep the animals as pets.
The Connecticut woman lost her nose, eyelids, lips, hands and her eyesight when she was mauled by the 90-kilogram ape in 2009. Her eyes had to be removed because she contracted a disease from the animal.
The chimpanzee, named Travis, belonged to Nash's friend and employer Sandra Herold. It had escaped her home, following which she called Nash to help recapture him. Travis was killed after the incident.
Nash has been physically recovering since the attack — she received a face transplant in 2011 — but also fighting legal battles over compensation and advocating for stricter laws on exotic pets.
"I'm here today to make sure what happened to me never happens to anyone else ever again," Nash told a news conference. She spoke only briefly about her experience and then urged members of Congress to support the Captive Primates Safety Act.
The bill would amend existing legislation by adding "non-human primates" to the list of animals that cannot be transported or traded across state borders. Currently the law covers tigers and lions.
About 25 states have bans on keeping monkeys, apes and other primates as pets but supporters of the bill say the animals are still easily obtained via the internet and from dealers and brought from one state to another. That's why a federal law is needed to prevent those transfers, they say.
'Wildlife belongs in the wild'
The Humane Society of the United States describes the bill as common sense. Monkeys can become unpredictable, aggressive and dangerous as they age and can spread diseases and pose even further risk to the public, the society argues.
They don't belong in private homes, the head of the group, Wayne Pacelle, told the news conference.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal said animals like Travis are "ticking time bombs" and the attack on Nash could have been prevented. "Non-human primates should not be sold or traded anywhere in the United States. Because they are unsafe to humans and they cannot be humanely cared for," he said at the news conference. "Wildlife should be kept in the wild."
The lawmakers who spoke at the news conference praised Nash for her courage and said she's being re-victimized by delays in passing the bill. It was first introduced in 2005 but has yet to make it through the Senate and House of Representatives in any session of Congress since then.
They are hoping her presence in Washington adds pressure on Congress to finally pass the legislation. Nash was scheduled to meet with staff of members of Congress to press for the proposed law.