Chimpanzee attack probed

Sanctuary visitor severely mauled


By Kim Curtis, Associated Press  |  March 5, 2005

(From Boston Globe)


HAVILAH, Calif. -- Investigators said yesterday that they are trying to determine how two chimpanzees that attacked a couple visiting an animal sanctuary escaped from their cage.


The chimps chewed off St. James Davis's nose and severely mauled his genitals and limbs Thursday before the son-in-law of the sanctuary's owner shot and killed the animals, authorities said.


Davis, 62, and his wife had gone there to visit another chimp that had lived with them for decades before they were forced to give up the animal. LaDonna Davis, 64, was bitten on the hand.


''A big part of the investigation will be figuring out whether the [sanctuary] owners were in compliance with regulations," said Hal Chealander, a Sheriff's Department commander. ''There's a reason why those chimpanzees got out. It will be crucial to our investigation how they got out."


Health authorities were testing the dead chimps for rabies and other diseases.


The Davises were at Animal Haven Ranch, in a canyon 30 miles east of Bakersfield, to celebrate the birthday of Moe, a 39-year-old chimpanzee taken from their suburban Los Angeles 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 Buddy and Ollie, two of the four chimpanzees in the adjoining cage, attacked St. James Davis, said Steve Martarano, a spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Game. Moe was not involved in the attack.


The chimps chewed off most of Davis's face and tore off his testicles and foot, Chealander said.


Davis was taken to Loma Linda University Medical Center, where he had surgery. The hospital would not release information on his condition.


Primate specialists say chimpanzees, which typically weigh 120 to 150 pounds and are much stronger than most humans, are known to kill chimps from neighboring groups, hunt other primates, even attack humans in the wild.


''This episode highlights some of the dangers of privately owning primates," said Steve Schapiro, who studies chimpanzee behavior at the University of Texas. ''When you maintain large, strong animals in captivity, you think you know what they're going to do, but in the end they're unpredictable."

Chimpanzee attack doesn't surprise experts


By Kim Curtis and Terence Chea, Associated Press Writers  |  March 5, 2005


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."


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, 62, 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.

Ferocity of chimpanzee attack stuns medics, leaves questions


By David Pierson and Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times  |  March 6, 2005


HAVILAH, Calif. -- St. James and LaDonna Davis raised Moe the chimp as their son. That was the word they used to describe him, and that was how they treated him -- like a hairy, rambunctious child who was a pampered member of the family.


They taught him to wear clothes, to take showers, to use the toilet, and to watch television in their West Covina, Calif., home.


On Thursday, the day they marked as Moe's 39th birthday, their love for the chimp nearly cost them their lives.


The Davises were visiting Moe at an animal sanctuary in the hills of eastern Kern County -- a place to which he had been banished after biting a woman -- when they were attacked by two other chimps and brutally mauled.


St. James Davis took the brunt of the attack, the ferocity of which left paramedics stunned. ''I had no idea a chimpanzee was capable of doing that to a human," said Kern County Fire Captain Curt Merrell, who was on the scene.


Davis, who remained in critical condition Friday, was badly disfigured. According to his wife, he lost all the fingers from both hands, an eye, part of his nose, cheek and lips, and part of his buttocks. His foot was mutilated and his heel bone was cracked.


LaDonna, 61, said she was sitting at a table with her husband, getting ready to cut the chimp's birthday cake, when she saw the two other chimps out of the corner of her eye. Moe, according to other accounts, was still in his cage.


''I turned around and they started charging," she said. One of the chimps pushed her against her husband and at some point her left thumb was bit off, she said.


''James saw that, pushed me behind a table and took the brunt of everything else," she said.


The attack ended when the son-in-law of the sanctuary's owners shot and killed the two rampaging chimps. Moe was uninjured.


Among the questions for which there were no immediate answers: How did the two chimps escape? And why did they attack?


The chimps were housed in outdoor cages at the Animal Haven Ranch, a private sanctuary. The ranch is owned by Ralph and Virginia Brauer, and has been licensed by the state since 1996 to take in primates, usually from zoos that no longer want them.


According to Kern County Sheriff's Commander Hal Chealander, Virginia Brauer was at home Thursday morning when she was startled to discover that four chimps -- two young males and two older females -- had gotten out of their cages and entered her home.


She reportedly detained the two females, Suzie, 59, and Bones, 49. The male chimps -- Buddy, 15, and Ollie, 13 -- escaped. Virginia Brauer gave chase, and soon found the chimps mauling the Davises, Chealander said.


''Get your gun!" Brauer yelled to her son-in-law, Mark Carruthers, who was at her home with his wife and infant son, Chealander said.


Male chimps usually stand about 4 feet tall and weigh between 90 and 120 pounds, specialists say. They are strong and aggressive animals who routinely kill and devour much larger animals in the wild. Their upper body strength is said to be five to 10 times that of the average human.


Carruthers shot Ollie, but the shot had no apparent effect. He reloaded the gun with more powerful, fully jacketed, ammunition, this time turning on the first chimp, Buddy.


Carruthers ''kneeled down, got pretty close and shot the first chimp in the head," Chealander said. ''When he fell off Mr. Davis, the second chimp attacked Mr. Davis and dragged him down a walkway by the back of the house. . . . By this time, Mr. Davis was really torn up."


Carruthers followed, and shot the second chimp in the head, ending the attack.


Ape specialist Deborah Fouts, director of the Chimp and Human Communication Institute at Central Washington University, said the attack may have been prompted by jealousy.


''Chimpanzees have a real sense of right and wrong and fairness and unfairness," said Fouts, a veteran of four decades of work with chimps. ''It sounds like people were showering a lot of attention on Moe, birthday cake and the like. . . . Perhaps the other chimps were jealous of Moe."