By Edwin Folven, 6/28/2012
Adult Male Chimp Killed Infant in Front of Onlookers
Things can change from total calm to total chaos in a second in the chimpanzee enclosure at the Los Angeles Zoo, which is what occurred Tuesday when one of the adult male chimpanzees killed a baby chimp in front of a crowd of zoo visitors.
The unnamed female infant chimpanzee was born on March 6 to Gracie, one of the chimps in the zoo’s habitat. Zookeepers were gradually introducing the baby chimp to the rest of the group, and there reportedly had been no previous problems or signs of aggression. Between 3 and 4 p.m. on Tuesday, however, one of the males attacked and killed the baby chimp. Zookeepers were unable to prevent the attack. The zoo has a strict policy that no humans can enter the enclosure when the chimpanzees are present because the chimps are unpredictable and prone to violence.
Zookeepers allowed Gracie to hold the baby throughout Tuesday night to allow the mother to grieve. Los Angeles Zoo spokesman Jason Jacobs said he did not know when the baby would be removed, but added that the mother and baby had been secluded away from the view of zoo visitors.
Studies have shown that chimpanzees and humans are the closest related primates, sharing 95 to 98 percent of the same DNA, according to the National Academy of Sciences. Jacobs said it is not uncommon for chimpanzees to kill their young in the wild, although no similar incident had ever occurred previously at the zoo. Chimpanzees, like humans, are among several mammals that are known to commit infanticide, including lions, bears, dolphins, ground squirrels and mice. The deceased baby chimp was the only infant among the zoo’s 13 chimpanzees.
“Chimpanzee behavior can sometimes be aggressive and violent, and the zoo is sorry that visitors had to be exposed to this,” Jacobs said. “This is a heartbreaking and tragic loss for the zoo and especially the Great Ape Team who have worked diligently to care for the infant and its mother since birth.”
The aggressive behavior was evident on June 16 when some visitors to the annual “Beastly Ball” fundraiser witnessed the chimpanzees launch into a frenzy of howling and aggressive gesturing. None of the chimpanzees were injured during the incident, but the episode illustrated how things can change very quickly with chimpanzees.
Jacobs said outbursts like the one at the “Beastly Ball” are common amongst groups of chimpanzees, and that it does not always mean they are angry.
“They do it for a lot of different reasons,” Jacobs said. “It might because they are excited, or that they are being fed, or that it is a minor skirmish between two individuals in the group. They exhibit a wide range of behaviors, and it can be difficult to determine why [they become aggressive].”