HAVILAH, Calif. — Chimpanzees come across to the public as little darlings, often in diapers and always willing to hold hands. But they’re really aggressors, primate experts say, more than capable of carrying out attacks as violent as one that left a man fighting for his life.
Generally weighing between 120 and 150 pounds with strength much greater than man, chimps in the wild are known to kill chimps from neighboring groups, hunt other primates and even attack humans.
“Male chimps are intensely territorial. They defend their territory against any perceived threat,” said Craig Stanford, a professor at the University of Southern California who studies primate behavior. “Chimps can be violent at times just as humans can be.”
Californian fights for life
On Friday, authorities continued to investigate how two chimps at an animal sanctuary escaped from their cage and mauled St. James Davis, 62. They were shot to death during Thursday’s attack by the son-in-law of the sanctuary’s owners, Virginia and Ralph Brauer.
Animal Haven Ranch, about 30 miles east of Bakersfield, has held state permits to shelter exotic animals since 1985. It is allowed to house up to nine primates at one time and is home to one spider monkey and six chimpanzees.
“A big part of the investigation will be figuring out whether the owners were in compliance with regulations,” Sheriff’s Cmdr. Hal Chealander said.
State wildlife and county health authorities were testing the chimps for rabies and other diseases that could affect the victims’ health, Chealander said.
Davis and his wife, LaDonna Davis, 64, were visiting the sanctuary to celebrate the birthday of a 39-year-old chimpanzee, Moe, who was taken from their home in 1999 after biting off part of a woman’s finger.
The couple had brought Moe a cake and were standing outside his cage when the two young male chimps, Ollie and Buddy, attacked the man.
Two other chimps, females named Susie and Bones, also escaped from the cage. They were recovered outside the sanctuary five hours later.
Susie and Bones could have played a role in the attack, primate experts said.
“We know that one of the most reliable predictors of increased male aggression is the presence of sexually receptive females,” said Jeffrey French, a psychobiologist who studies primate behavior at the University of Nebraska, Omaha.
The chimps chewed off most of Davis’ face, tore off his foot and attacked his limbs and genitals. Davis was transported to Loma Linda University Medical Center, where he had surgery late Thursday night.
The medical center would not release any information about Davis’ condition on Friday. Hospital spokeswoman Julie Smith said the family requested confidentiality.
LaDonna Davis was bitten on the hand. She was released from the hospital Friday .
The Brauers would not speak to reporters, but a family friend gave a statement to The Associated Press, which read, “All of us here at Animal Haven Ranch are praying for the recovery of St. James Davis and LaDonna Davis.”
“This is the only incident in 20 years of operation,” the statement said.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have called on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to ban private ownership of exotic animals in California, citing the increasing popularity of keeping such animals as pets. The group said there have been more than 90 reported dangerous incidents nationwide involving primates since 1990.
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