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L.A. Zoo officials saw no way to predict killing of baby chimp

A chimpanzee named Yoshi, left, kisses the hand of a baby chimp that was later killed by an adult male in front of dozens of L.A. Zoo visitors in June. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times
In a report to the City Council, Los Angeles Zoo officials said Tuesday that there was no way to predict the attack that occurred in June when an adult male chimpanzee killed a baby chimp in front of dozens of zoo visitors.

"The male spontaneously grabbed the baby and killed it, instantly. There was no aggressive action before this," zoo Director John. R. Lewis said.

A review of the incident was ordered after Victoria Pipkin-Lane, the executive director of the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission, wrote an email to city leaders demanding "a full report and corrective action."

The Quality and Productivity Commission's purpose is to advise the county government on ways to become more efficient and is not directly affiliated with the zoo. Pipkin-Lane did not return several calls for comment Monday. Pipkin-Lane wrote in an email that she had visited the zoo a few days before the attack and observed a fight in the chimpanzee exhibit that she claimed was a "precursor" to the violence.

But physical altercations between chimps are expected, the zoo director wrote.

"Visitors from previous days probably observed such loud squabbles thinking retrospectively, but incorrectly, that it may have been predicting a coming problem," Lewis said.

Male chimps can attack baby chimps to demonstrate dominance, make way for their own offspring when joining a new troop or as part of a fight with another chimp. The male in question, named Ripley, has been a major part of the group for a long time, Lewis said. 

The report also detailed a multi-stage process by which the new mother and baby were gradually introduced to each member of the troop. The baby killed in June was the zoo's first chimpanzee born in captivity in 13 years and staffers proceeded carefully, the report said. No aggressive behaviors were observed during the introductions and the baby had met every troop member since three weeks before the attack, the report said.

And hours before the attack, the report states, Ripley was seen touching the infant with the mother's permission, "smiling with 'play faces' with 'Ripley' showing no signs of aggression."

The zoo plans to "begin discussions" about future chimpanzee breeding practices. In the meantime, a baby chimp born two weeks ago is being kept with a group of female chimps separate from the males. Lewis said the zoo may allow the baby to mature more before being introduced to the males.

"We're going to proceed extremely slowly going forward," Lewis said. 


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Photo: A chimpanzee named Yoshi, left, kisses the hand of a baby chimp that was later killed by an adult male in front of dozens of L.A. Zoo visitors in June. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

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