Visitors at the Los Angeles Zoo witnessed a grizzly scene Wednesday when an adult chimpanzee mauled to death a baby chimp inside the animal enclosure.
"I did talk to a couple of visitors as I was coming up here, tried to help them process what they had seen. We also had some other visitors help us get a better understanding," explained zoo director John Lewis to NBCLosAngeles.com.
The death is particularly tragic for the zoo, as the baby chimp, a female, had been the first to be born at the zoo for nearly 13 years. Zoo spokesperson Jason Jacobs explained that the fatal incident occurred when the young chimp was being introduced to a troop of 15 adults in the chimp habitat. She was attacked and killed by an adult male. While zoo staff did not witness the attack first hand, it apparently happened in front of a group of guests.
"Chimpanzee behavior can sometimes be aggressive and violent and the zoo is sorry that visitors had to be exposed to this," Jacobs added. "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 birth."
The female chimp had not been given a name yet, but her mother, Gracia, was allowed to preside over her daughter's body overnight in order to grieve her loss.
"Everything that we saw has been positive, all the chimps have been very interested, wanting to either be close to, or touch the baby," the zoo's curator of mammals, Jennie Becker, shared with KCAL-TV.
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Adult male chimpanzees are known to behave aggressively, and this fatal incident is prompting zoo officials to consider taking a new approaches to introducing new arrivals to a larger group.
Becker explained: "We're going to have to consider, at what age maybe we introduce babies to the group. I didn't think that this was going to be a problem. These are all experienced, social chimps."