When St. James Davis adopted an orphaned chimpanzee he found while on safari in Africa almost four decades ago, he hardly could have guessed how that relationship would lead to devastating trauma today.
Davis, 62, currently lies in a medically induced coma in a California hospital, his nose chewed off and his genitals and limbs severely mauled. Last month, Davis and his wife, LaDonna, were visiting the chimp they adopted at a wildlife preserve, when two other chimps attacked them.
"The big male took off to my husband's face, his head area, while he's on the ground. And the smaller one … went to his foot area," LaDonna Davis told ABC News' John Quiñones. They were "tearing away at him. And I'm begging somebody to do something here."
A ranch hand eventually shot the two chimps to death. Prosecutors said this week they won't seek criminal charges against the operator of the reserve because the animals apparently escaped on their own.
The Davises' relationship with chimpanzees began happily. When St. James first brought the orphaned chimp home, one of the first people to see him was his childhood sweetheart, LaDonna.
St. James had named the baby chimp Moe. "The very first time I met Moe, it was love at first sight," LaDonna said.
The young couple quickly incorporated him into their family. He served as the ring bearer at their wedding. He slept in their bed and dined at the family table. When he was still hungry, LaDonna Davis said, she would let Moe make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
"He'd pull the little stool, stand on the stool," she remembered. "I wouldn't say he would do an expert job, but that wasn't what it was about."
The Davises have both said Moe was like a son to them. LaDonna had cancer at an early age and had to have a hysterectomy. But she also insists, "I wasn't trying to make Moe into something that he wasn't."
Chimp or child, Moe's popularity soon spread in the Davises' town of West Covina, Calif. He was called on to entertain children, and got some work in show business. He was one of several chimps cast in the 1980s sitcom, "B.J. and the Bear."
But the welcome eventually wore off, when Moe jumped from his cage one day in 1998 and ran into the neighborhood. An accidental electric shock frightened him. Friends of the family calmed him down, but he got spooked again when the police showed up, and he attacked the squad car, then went after a cop.
Animal control officers subdued Moe with a tranquilizer gun, and Moe was returned to his cage. But a year later, Moe bit a woman's finger, and the people of West Covina demanded he be removed from their neighborhood.
"I was insulted," Davis said. "I felt betrayed by the same city that I felt we did a lot for in all the previous years."
The city charged the couple with the crime of harboring a dangerous animal, and kept Moe in custody as evidence. But after a protracted legal battle that saw the charges dropped and four more years, Moe was moved to the Animal Haven Ranch, which housed a number of retired chimp actors, in a canyon 30 miles east of Bakersfield.
LaDonna said it was a compromise they were comfortable with. But then, on March 3, the Davises went to visit Moe to celebrate his 39th birthday.
It was supposed to be like a birthday for any other child, Davis told Quiñones. They had brought Moe chocolate milk, and the chimp was clapping his hands.