CALIENTE, Calif. – Two people were seriously injured and two chimpanzees were shot dead Thursday after several chimps broke from their cages at an animal sanctuary and attacked some visitors, authorities said.
One of the injured people was airlifted to Kern Medical Center and was in critical condition after the chimps attacked the pair at Animal Haven Ranch (search), a sanctuary about 20 miles southeast of Bakersfield, said Kern County Sheriff's Sgt. Jeff Hunt.
The other person is in serious condition. Hunt said he did not know what kind of injuries they suffered.
Television station KGET-17 identified the victims as St. James Davis and his wife, LaDonna Davis, who were at the sanctuary to celebrate the birthday of Moe, an orphaned chimpanzee the couple rescued from Africa after a poacher killed his mother.
The Davis' reportedly brought Moe a cake, but two other chimpanzees named Buddy and Ollie jumped St. James Davis and began to attack, KGET-17 reported, quoting local animal control authorities.
Dr. Maureen Martin, of Kern Medical Center (search), told the television station that the monkeys that attacked Davis chewed most his face off and that he would require extensive surgery in an attempt to reattach his nose. He was transported to Loma Linda Medical Center University. His wife suffered a bite wound to the hand
Buddy and Ollie were shot and killed following the attack, and two other chimps escaped from their cage, prompting sheriff's deputies, animal control workers, and officials from the California Department of Fish and Game (search) to launch a search.
The wayward pair were eventually recovered by an Animal Haven worker, one of them found two miles away from the sanctuary, said Fish and Game spokesman Steve Martarano.
After learning about the attack just after 11 a.m., the sheriff's department dispatched three deputies to the shelter to "keep the situation under control" while they waited for help from the state Department of Fish and Game, said Cheryl Longwith, a spokeswoman for the Kern County Sheriff's Department.
Martarano said several Kern County-based wardens were sent to the sanctuary, some carrying tranquilizing equipment.
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.
Among the six chimpanzees living at Animal Haven Ranch is Moe, a 150-pound chimp with a history of violent behavior. Moe was taken from his keepers' home in a Los Angeles suburb in 1999 after biting off part of a woman's finger.
Martarano said Moe was not involved in Thursday's attack.
Chimpanzees can turn surly if not handled properly, said Martine Colette, animal director of the Wildlife WayStation (search), 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.