boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe

Ferocity of chimpanzee attack stuns medics, leaves questions

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."

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES
 
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives