L.A. Zoo should have seen chimpanzee warning signs, critic says
A Los Angeles County employee who witnessed an "absolutely awful" weekend fight between two chimps said the L.A. Zoo should have seen the warning signs and helped to prevent the killing of a baby chimp.
The chimpanzee, which was born in March, was killed in a habitat with other chimps Tuesday, the zoo said in a statement. The baby chimpanzee had been gradually introduced to the chimps in the habitat, but there were no indications of problems, according to zoo officials.
Victoria Pipkin-Lane, the executive director of the county's Quality and Productivity Commission, disagreed. She said she was “furious” at zoo staff upon hearing the news because she said she saw two tussles between chimps just days before the baby was killed.
In a letter written to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Pipkin-Lane said she witnessed a fight between two chimps, one of whom appeared to be protecting the slain infant and her mother, Gracie. In her letter, Pipkin-Lane said the fight broke out sometime between 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday and lasted about 10 minutes.
Before she left the zoo about 4 p.m., she said another skirmish broke out.
She asked Villaraigosa to demand a full report and action plan from the zoo.
“It was scary,” Pipkin-Lane told The Times. “Those of us that were near the compound were like, ‘My god, why aren’t they going to do something about this?’
“If it happened on Saturday,” she added, “there was probably a fight on Sunday too.”
“The baby’s eyes were clearly open and I could just see the face,” she said. “It’s just a precious looking face.”
Zoo officials have stressed that fighting is normal chimp behavior and in their statement that they were “sorry that visitors had to be exposed to this.”
Craig Stanford, a USC professor who studies these animals, said chimp infanticide behavior occurs both in captivity and in the wild. Even with the best practices, Stanford said some acts of aggression are unavoidable.
“They can be very nasty animals, they abuse females, and they attack babies,” Stanford said of chimps. “We lose track of that because when we go to the zoo, we see them as caricatures of us.”
-- Matt Stevens and Jon Bardin