Mark Dery reviews Deadly Kingdom: The Book of Dangerous Animals

In True/Slant, Mark Dery finds Gordon Grice's new book, Deadly Kingdom: The Book of Dangerous Animals, "endlessly entertaining."
201005241556Sandra Herold, the 71-one-year-old widow who lived alone with Travis the Chimp, believed he “couldn’t have been more my son than if I gave birth to him.” Travis enjoyed honorary Homo sapiens status at home, where he  “lived like a human, eating steak and drinking wine” and sleeping (and bathing!) with his female owner, and in his hometown of Stamford, Connecticut (“he was small and cute and friendly,” a local cop remembered, “he’d wave at you”)…until the day he ran amok, gnawing Charla Nash’s face to an eyeless, noseless pulp. Experts quoted in media coverage wondered if Lyme disease or a dose of Xanax had triggered Travis’s rampage. According to Grice, such explanations turn a blind eye on the answer hidden in plain sight: although we insist on viewing chimpanzees as midgets in fur suits, wearing nature’s mask to mock us, they are, in fact, wild animals. They may star in commercials, eat ice cream, and use the toilet, as Herold’s “son” did, but male chimps like Travis are born to battle their way to the top of dominance hierarchies, five times as strong as a man (“one captive chimp weighing about 160 pounds lifted an 1,800-pound object,” Grice notes), with impressive canines designed to break bone and flense meat. Travis’s attack, says Grice, was perfectly “normal behavior for a captive primate.” Again, the key word here is captive. Forced into close encounters of the human kind, let alone cohabitation, animals can behave unnaturally.

When Animals Attack!: On Gordon Grice’s Deadly Kingdom