Chimp-Loving Duo Sees Their Darker Side

"He knew that, boy, this was the time," she said. "And James kept saying, "I'm coming, I'm coming, I'm coming!"

She said she said good morning to Moe, gave him a kiss, and then set down a cake and a bag of goodies for him.

But then LaDonna realized other animals were loose. One chimp had figured out that their cages were just locked by a pin, and she was able to get a stick and push it out. She and another female escaped, along with two males.

The males attacked. "Before I could get turned back around, I was hit from behind," LaDonna said. "I must have reached my hand out to fall, and when I did, the thumb got crunched off."

Then the two males turned to St. James Davis. A ranch hand shot one of them, but had to return to the house to get more ammunition. Meanwhile, the other dragged St. James Davis another 30 feet before the ranch hand returned and shot him, too.

St. James "is covered in blood, and there are things all over the place. And I am going … frantic," LaDonna said. "I'm on my knees just rocking and telling my husband that he better not die on me. I said, 'Don't you die on me.'"

The two females were eventually recaptured.

Dominance Issues

Chimpanzees have at least three times the strength of men, and can be very aggressive in a social environment, said Jenny McNary, curator of mammals at the Los Angeles Zoo.

When males fight for dominance or territory, "you can get broken arms, broken bones," she said.

Timmi DeRosa, who founded a charity that helps care for retired apes from TV and films, said, "the first thing they do is they take off the hands, the feet, the testicles, the ears."

McNary said she hesitated to say the two slain males were motivated by jealousy, but she said they could have attacked because there was interference with the social structure.

"It could be that you are interacting with a subordinate animal, and that particular animal feels a need to show dominance over you," she said.

"If I was sitting in the back area with our chimps, and I was kind of interacting with one that I knew -- if that particular chimp was subordinate, and I was -- maybe I was feeding it grapes -- you might get a dominant chimp coming over to push that chimp out of the way or to threaten me."

Meanwhile, Moe is in seclusion back at the wildlife preserve. DeRosa said Moe was depressed for a few days, but now he's doing fine.

He's lonely, she added. "As much attention as everyone gives him, he's lonely."

Yet it's impossible to know for sure what goes on in the mind of an animal.

The Davises "think" they know, because they raised Moe like a child. Experts say you can't ascribe human qualities to an animal.

What is known is this: what happened to St. James Davis on March 3, 2005, is the same thing that happens regularly in the wild.

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