Several chimpanzees broke from their cages at an animal sanctuary Thursday and attacked two visitors, seriously injuring them, authorities said. Sanctuary workers shot and killed two of the powerful animals.
Officials did not immediately release the victims’ names, but a television station reported that they were a couple who were visiting another chimpanzee that had been removed from their home years earlier for his own aggressive behavior.
One of those injured at the Animal Haven Ranch was airlifted to Kern Medical Center in critical condition, said Sheriff’s Sgt. Jeff Hunt. Another victim was in serious condition, said Hunt, who did not know what kind of injuries they suffered.
KGET-TV of Bakersfield identified the victims as St. James Davis and his wife, LaDonna Davis, who were at the sanctuary to celebrate the birthday of Moe, who was taken from their suburban Los Angeles home in 1999 after biting off part of a woman’s finger.
Moe was not involved in Thursday’s attack, said state Department of Fish and Game spokesman Steve Martarano.
The Davises reportedly brought Moe a cake, but two other chimpanzees named Buddy and Ollie attacked St. James Davis, KGET reported, quoting local animal control authorities.
Dr. Maureen Martin, of Kern Medical Center, told the television station that the monkeys chewed most of Davis’ face off and that he would require extensive surgery in an attempt to reattach his nose. He was transported to Loma Linda Medical Center University, she said.
LaDonna Davis suffered a bite wound to the hand, Martin said.
Buddy and Ollie were shot and killed following the attack, and two other chimps escaped from their cage, prompting sheriff’s deputies, animal control workers, and Fish and Game officials to launch a search.
The wayward pair were eventually recovered by an Animal Haven worker. Martarano said one chimp was two miles from the sanctuary.
The Davises had waged an unsuccessful legal fight to bring Moe back to their West Covina home. They brought the chimp from Africa decades ago after a poacher killed his mother.
Animal Haven Ranch has held state permits to shelter animals since 1985 and serves as a sanctuary for animals that have been confiscated or discovered lost, Martarano said.
It is allowed to house up to nine primates at one time and is home to one spider monkey and six chimpanzees, he said. The permits are held by Ralph and Virginia Brauer, who could not be reached immediately for comment.
Chimpanzees can turn surly if not handled properly, said Martine Colette, animal director of the Wildlife WayStation, a sanctuary near Los Angeles where Moe was housed for a time.
“Chimps are notoriously strong and they have some very, very specific behaviors,” Colette said. “If someone tries to confine them, they will definitely put up a fight.”
“An average person who doesn’t know chimp body language can’t read them,” she added.