Two chimpanzees broke from their cage at an animal sanctuary Thursday and attacked a couple who were visiting another chimp that had been removed from their home years earlier for his own aggressive behavior, authorities said.
The son-in-law of the sanctuary's owner shot and killed the animals that left St. James Davis, 62, in critical condition with massive injuries to his face and limbs, said Steve Martarano, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game.
"He saw what was happening and had one kind of weapon with him and then got another he felt would be more substantial and shot them," Martarano said. "He pretty much saved a life." Davis' wife, LaDonna Davis, 64, suffered a bite wound to the hand while attempting to help her husband, Martarano said.
The Davises were at the Animal Haven Ranch to celebrate the birthday of Moe, a chimpanzee who was taken from their suburban Los Angeles home in 1999 after biting off part of a woman's finger.
The couple had brought Moe a cake and were standing outside his cage when Buddy and Ollie, two of the four chimpanzees in the adjoining cage, attacked St. James Davis, Martarano said. Officials do not yet know how the chimps got out of their enclosure, he said.
Moe was not involved in Thursday's attack, Martarano said. Dr. Maureen Martin, of Kern Medical Center, told KGET-TV of Bakersfield that the monkeys chewed most of Davis' face off and that he would require extensive surgery in an attempt to reattach his nose.
Davis, who also suffered injuries to his head, arm and leg, was transported to Loma Linda University Medical Center, where he was undergoing surgery late Thursday night, according to Martarano. Two other chimps, females named Susie and Bones, also escaped from the cage they shared with Ollie and Buddy, prompting sheriff's deputies, animal control workers, and Fish and Game officials to launch a search.
The wayward pair were eventually recovered peacefully by Animal Haven owner Virginia Brauer after five hours. Martarano said one chimp was two miles from the sanctuary.
The Davises had waged an unsuccessful legal fight to bring Moe back to their West Covina home. They brought the chimp from Africa decades ago after a poacher killed his mother.
Animal Haven Ranch has held state permits to shelter animals since 1985 and serves as a sanctuary for animals that have been confiscated or discovered lost, Martarano said.
It is allowed to house up to nine primates at one time and is home to one spider monkey and six chimpanzees, he said. The permits are held by Ralph and Virginia Brauer, who could not be reached immediately for comment.
Chimpanzees can turn surly if not handled properly, said Martine Colette, animal director of the Wildlife WayStation, a sanctuary near Los Angeles where Moe was housed for a time.
"Chimps are notoriously strong and they have some very, very specific behaviors," Colette said. "If someone tries to confine them, they will definitely put up a fight."
"An average person who doesn't know chimp body language can't read them," she added.