Skip to comments.Investigators: Keeper Left Chimps' Cage Unlocked
Posted on 04/20/2005 5:22:22 PM PDT by BenLurkin
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (AP) Officials investigating a savage attack by two chimps at an animal sanctuary said Wednesday the animals' keeper failed to lock two of three doors on their cage, which warranted misdemeanor criminal charges.
"We believe there were violations ... and that's why we submitted the case," said Hal Chealander, commander of the Kern County Sheriff's division that oversees Havilah, a rural, mountainous area near Bakersfield where the attack took place. "We had a job to do, and we believe we did it very well."
However, prosecutors disagreed and decided Tuesday not to charge Virginia Brauer, the chimps' caretaker. The decision disappointed LaDonna Davis, whose husband, St. James Davis, lost most of his face, his foot and his fingers in the attack.
LaDonna Davis, who lost a thumb in the attack, said it's excruciating for her to watch her husband suffer from his injuries. He has had dozens of operations and is struggling with a lung infection from the bacteria and feces he inhaled while wrestling with the chimp in the dirt, she said.
St. James Davis has not regained consciousness since the attack, his wife said, and doctors have warned her that he could suffer a heart attack from the stress of his condition.
"It is overwhelming," LaDonna Davis said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "There's been many times when I've been (by his bedside) when I've gotten sick to my stomach and had to step out and cry for a while. It's just day by day right now."
LaDonna Davis's attorney, Gloria Allred, said she believes the sanctuary is liable for the chimp's escape but said she has ruled out a civil lawsuit because the facility says it has no liability insurance.
Allred said she and Davis will instead lobby the state Legislature to pass a law requiring all private animal sanctuaries to have liability insurance.
"In my opinion, there would be liability on the part of the sanctuary and there are significant damages but they represent that have no assets or no insurance," Allred said.
On March 3, Brauer left open two of the three doors that held the animals in their enclosure, Chealander said.
Brauer told law enforcement officers she was certain the third barrier -- a wire mesh trapdoor held in place by a 4-inch pin about an arm's length from the chimps -- was locked when she hurried out of the pen to help the Davises. The couple was bringing a cake and other birthday gifts for Moe, a pet chimp they had sent to Animal Haven Ranch about five months before the attack.
"She left the bunkhouse in a hurry," Chealander said. "But she felt certain the trapdoor was closed and secure."
But as the couple settled in front of the cage holding Moe, four other chimps escaped the enclosure they shared. The two males -- Ollie and Buddy -- attacked St. James Davis, jealous of the attention the couple gave Moe.
Chealander said the chimps probably escaped because, unbeknownst to Brauer, they had learned to reach through the wire mesh and push up the pin that held the door in place -- a trick investigators saw the female chimps perform during a March 10 visit. The male chimps were shot shortly after the attack.
The two agencies that investigated, the sheriff's department and the state Department of Fish and Game, found three misdemeanor violations: failure to keep animals under control, failure to keep cages completely enclosed, and failure to house animals to prevent escape.
But the Kern County District Attorney's office refused to pursue the case, saying even though two of the doors holding the chimps back were open, Brauer had reason to believe the third, locked cage door would keep them restrained.
"There's just no evidence Mrs. Brauer had any idea the chimps had figured out how to unlock the cage," District Attorney Edward R. Jagels said in an interview Wednesday. "We don't think a crime was committed. Nobody could predict this would happen. We can't call it negligence, much less intent."
Jagels went on to say that Brauer was courageous, enticing the chimps into her house, even though she had an infant at home. But she wasn't able to keep them in the building.
Brauer has been cooperative, Chealander said, and she has changed the locks on the cages since the incident.
"She's very remorseful about what happened," he said.
The Brauers did not return calls seeking comment.
Their exotic animal permit, issued by Fish and Game, expired March 25. The couple applied for an extension, which was granted, pending the investigation's outcome, said spokesman Patrick Foy.
"Now that the DA has made this decision ... We have to go back and look at it to see if we should revoke or extend the permit," he said, adding there is no deadline for that decision to be made.
The sanctuary remains home to four chimpanzees and one spider monkey, Foy said, adding that a condition of the extension was that the Brauers obtain no new animals.
The keeper should be tossed to lions.
I've always wondered, and perhaps someone can tell me, why is it that chimps are so much stronger than us? Do they have a much lower adrenaline threshhold? Is it a matter of physics? I know they are much smaller. They say a chimp can effective bench the equivalent of 1200 lbs which is just astounding. I'm very large and I've only approached 400 lbs.
Am shocked to learn that this poor man is not yet aware of his own condition at this point; though perhaps he knows, at some level. . .would not want to be there when he wakes up.
That said; I would not want to wake-up; at all. . . .
Their arms must be all muscle. Consider how they constantly climb and swing, using their arms.
Yeah, but my niece and nephew do that constantly and I can still beat them up ;)
why is it that chimps are so much stronger than us?
I think the reason is because chimps are quadrupeds. Humans have a lot of strength in their buttocks (for locomotion) and chimps has no buns but a lot of upper body strength.
We now have a Belgian Malinois who tries to turn the doorknobs in the house with her mouth. She has successfully turned the deadbolt too.
As intelligent as chimps are, I'm surprised that they don't automatically use a double lock deadbolt, that needs keys to open from either side.
"a female chimp, weighing a mere 135 pounds and going by the name of Suzette, checked in with a one-handed pull of 1,260 pounds."
Yeah, but I can't even leg press 1200 lbs.
I'm very sorry to hear of his devastating injuries but it sounds like they are the poster couple for reasons NOT to try to domesticate chimps and other critters.
Well, I'll not complain about having a bad day. That's for sure.
Well, of course, they'd need all that body strength and "monkey grip" to swing and scamper through the treetrops without falling, so nature gave them the equipment for it. The explanation of how they achieve such robust musculature is a mystery to me. But it's something I've noticed throughout the animal world. I'd say pound-for-pound almost any animal is stronger than a human being. They've got a bigger bite, too. Thank goodness we rely on our wits to defend ourselves, or we'd end up on every carnivore's dinner plate. When we lose our wits -- LIKE NOT LOCKING THE F'ING CAGE -- we realize just how puny we are, physically.
Yeah, but I can't even leg press 1200 lbs.
But if that ability was a condition of your survival, you would be able to.
I've heard that part of it is not muscle mass or tone, but points of attachment -- leverage. As I understand it, chimp muscles are attached further up from the joints -- which gives the muscles better leverage. This trades strength for speed of movement. You can outjab a chimp, but once he gets hold of you, he'll tear your head off. Also, as pointed out by another poster, they're disproportionately large above the waist in comparison to humans. A chimp's forearms are huge.
>> "This is the couple that was visiting the sanctuary to see their former "pet" that had attacked someone (a child I think), right?" <<
Not exactly. If I remember correctly, it was a woman who had long red fingernails and who was feeding something to the chimp. The chimp thought the fingernail was candy or something , and bit a finger off.
That's what I was thinking I'd heard too, that there were points of physics involved, in addition to connective tissue and such. I wonder what competitive advantage came from us becoming weaker. Perhaps the fine movements of the hands meant a need for sacrificing strength. Who knows.
I have had cats that could turn unlocked doorknobs.
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