By Associated Press
LOS ANGELES -- A baby chimpanzee was killed by an adult male chimpanzee inside their exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo on Tuesday as visitors watched, zoo officials said.
Zoo spokesman Jason Jacobs said visitors reported seeing the adult attack the 3-month-old infant but workers could not stop the attack because it is not safe for them to occupy the same space as the chimpanzees.
The baby's mother, a chimp named Gracie who gave birth March 6, "had proved to be a caring mother," the zoo said in a statement.
"Gracie is being allowed to keep the infant overnight to allow her the opportunity to grieve," Jacobs said.
The infant was being gradually introduced to the troop, one of the largest in a North American zoo, and there had been no indication of aggressive behavior toward her, Jacobs said. But chimpanzees can sometimes show surprising aggression, he said.
"Chimpanzee behavior can sometimes be aggressive and violent, and the zoo is sorry that visitors had to be exposed to this," Jacobs said. "This is a heartbreaking and tragic loss for the zoo and especially for the Great Ape Team who have worked diligently to care for the infant and its mother since its birth."
Studies and observations in recent years have shown that male chimpanzees often attack the small children of rivals both in the wild and in captivity, especially if a desired female is involved, though the relationship of the two chimps in Tuesday's attack was unclear.
Zoo officials did not immediately return phone and email messages seeking further explanation.
Officials at the LA Zoo are still trying to figure out what caused one adult chimpanzee to snap and snatch a baby chimp from her mother's arms Tuesday afternoon.
Based on visitors' observations, the adult chimp grabbed the baby from her mom "really fast" at around 3:30 p.m., said LA Zoo director John Lewis to The Huffington Post. Lewis described the attack as "out of the blue," as the baby had been slowly introduced to the rest of the troop regularly since her birth three months ago. The adult chimp who killed the baby is not her father.
Twitter user @ilovemykiley, who was at the zoo when the baby chimp was killed, tweeted to HuffPost, "Not quite sure what happened another chimp started throwing the baby around."
Marlene Horowitz, who was also at the zoo when the attack happened, told HuffPost that the mother chimpanzee was inconsolable. "The mother was not quiet," wrote Horowitz in an email. "There was a sobbing sound, very sad ... she continued to sob for more than an hour before we were taken out of site. I felt extremely sad for her."
The baby chimpanzee's mother and grandmother are secluded in a separate room with the body, explained Lewis, in order to give them enough time to grieve before zookeepers take the baby away.
When asked how the chimpanzee family was grieving, Lewis explained, "They're just quiet ... We can't really understand what their thought process is, but we can see they recognize that the baby is dead."
The baby chimp's death is particularly heartbreaking for the zoo, as she was the facility's first chimpanzee birth in 13 years.
Staffers at the LA Zoo will continue to closely monitor the rest of the troop, made up of 15 adult chimpanzees in total, to make sure there aren't more violent episodes.