Published November 20, 2014
The chimpanzee habitat at the Los Angeles Zoo was open for visitors Wednesday, a day after a baby chimp was killed by an adult male in front of dozens of visitors.
The baby's mother, Gracie, was allowed to keep the chimp's body after Tuesday afternoon's attack. Zookeepers will decide how long she keeps it, said spokesman Jason Jacobs. He said he didn't know what would happen to the baby's body after it was taken from the mother.
The infant was the first chimpanzee born at the zoo since 1999.
There are 13 chimpanzees left at the zoo. The unnamed infant was born March 6 and had been gradually introduced to the troop, one of the largest in a North American zoo. There were no aggressive signs, Jacobs said, but it is common in the wild for males to kill the offspring of females they are interested in.
Jane Goodall started studying chimpanzees in the wild in Gombe National Park in Africa nearly a half century ago, said Stephen Zawistowski, executive vice president for national programs and science adviser for The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
In the wild, a male might kill babies in an effort to stimulate the mother so she will breed with him, Zawistowski said.
"The irony here is that for many, many years in zoos, baby primates were taken away from their mothers and bottle-fed to keep them safe and make sure they survived. Then we ended up with generations of chimps that were incompetent socially. They didn't know how to be mothers. They didn't know how to be socially appropriate," Zawistowski said.
"So they moved in this direction of letting mothers keep their babies and having some males around. More often than not, everything seems to work out. But sometimes this will lead to tragic circumstances," he added.
He said the zoo death might help scientists understand more about how animals deal with grief and loss.
He remembered a film shot by National Geographic early during Goodall's research of a mother whose baby had died. "She carried it about with her for quite a while. It just about ripped your heart out when you watched it," he said.
Scientists are trained to be empirically minded and research-oriented, Zawistowski said, because they can't know for sure if an animal is experiencing grief. "But when you see her holding this baby, trying to get it to respond and you see the expressions and body language, it's hard not to say this is a mother who has lost her baby and she's terribly upset about it."
Jacobs says the zoo, which gets over 1.6 million visitors a year, was very crowded Wednesday and there had been a strong outpouring of sympathy at the zoo and on the zoo's Facebook page.