Travis the Chimp: Sandra Herald’s 911 call in 2009
Charla has been left unrecognisable following the devastating attack by her friend’s chimpanzee Travis, whom Sandra had raised like a son for the previous 14 years. It’s still a mystery why the chimp – a local celebrity who could drive a car, dress himself and had a pet cat – flipped out the way he did that day in 2009.
Travis was adopted by Sandra and her husband Jerome when he was just three days old after his mother was killed trying to escape the Missouri Chimpanzee Sanctuary in the US.
The chimp, who was named after Sandra’s favourite singer, settled into the family very quickly and was well-known by anyone who knew his adoptive parents.
Having been around the Herold family – and other humans – almost since birth, Travis was used to people and seemed to be well disciplined.
One neighbour, who used to play wrestle with the primate, said: “He listened better than my nephews.”
The unusual pet showed a lot of human characteristics – he drank wine from stemmed glasses at mealtimes, loved to eat ice cream, watched TV using the remote control and could even log onto a computer where he looked at pictures.
Travis even learnt to drive a car and was seen several times at the wheel around the neighbourhood.
His huge presence was a comfort for Sandra after her husband sadly passed away from cancer in 2004.
After that, their bond became stronger and the pair even started sharing a bed.
This made the attack on February 16, 2009, even more shocking.
Charla with baby Travis years before the attack
Travis’ owner Sandra Herold
On the fateful day, Charla, a friend and employee of Sandra’s, had been asked to come over and help put the chimp into his enclosure.
In a show of terrifying primal strength, Travis uncharacteristically snapped and attacked Charla, gnawing off her face and hands.
He ripped off her eyelids, tore off her nose, gouged out and ate her eyes and almost tore one of her arms off.
Charla’s jaw was entirely dislocated and she was left brain-damaged.
After the attack, the then 70-year-old Sandra admitted that there had been previous warning signs that all was not well with Travis.
In 2003, the chimp had managed to escape the couples car while stuck in traffic.
A person walking past had thrown something into the open window of the vehicle, which hit Travis. In response, the pet calmly undid his seatbelt, escaped the vehicle and chased after the culprit.
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Charla appeared on Oprah just months after the attack to bravely show her injuries
Sandra screamed down the phone to police ‘he ripped her face off! He’s eating her face!’
Luckily, he didn’t manage to catch the person but it took police several hours to entice him back to his owners and the incident led to a new law being passed in Conneticut – no one could own a primate weighing more than 50lbs.
Even though Travis showed concerning behaviour, he was allowed to stay with his owners after the authorities decided he didn’t pose a threat.
However, just six years later they would be proved very wrong when the grown-up chimpanzee attacked Charla.
Travis had known Charla – who was 55 at the time – for several years but she had recently changed her hair around the time of the attack and there are claims he had become startled by this and lashed out.
Sandra, who was the only one to witness the full attack, claimed Travis approached Charla aggressively before getting on his hind legs, throwing her against the side of her car before launching the savage attack.
In a desperate attempt to get the primate off her friend, the then 70-year-old grabbed a shovel and hit him over the head, and even stabbed him in the back.
Sandra recalls: “He looked at me like, ‘Mom, what did you do?”
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Charla underwent a 72-hour operation following the attack
When the police arrived, Travis continued on his rampage. He opened one of the police car doors and lunged at an officer.
Despite being shot four times at point-blank range Travis didn’t die straight away.
He ran back into the house and collapsed dead on his bed.
After paramedics arrived on the scene, they believed Charla – slumped in a pool of her own blood with no recognisable features – was dead.
After realising she was still breathing, she was rushed into surgery and underwent a 72-hour operation while surgeons attempted to reconstruct
Charla now lives in a care home with a new face and will rely on carers to look after her for the rest of her life.
Months after the attack, she bravely appeared on Oprah to show her injuries.
After the incident, NBC reporter Jeff Rossen asked Sandra: “After what you’ve been through with this – your friend is in the hospital fighting for her life – do you still think chimps should be pets?”
She replied: “Would I have done it again? Yes! They’re the closest thing to humans – to us.
“We can give them a blood transfusion, and they can give us one. How many people go crazy and kill other people? This is one incident that I don’t know what happened.
“It was a horrible thing. But I’m not a horrible person. And he wasn’t a horrible chimp. It was a freak thing.”