The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Wild Chimpanzees in Florida? Gini Valbuena?

Chimpanzees are not the fun and cute animals that are seen in commercials and movies. They can be unpredictable and violent like any other wild animal. With four times the strength of a man, a chimpanzee attack is vicious and devastating. With recent captive chimpanzee attacks in the news, a number of sightings of chimpanzees in the wild have been reported. In the episode entitled “Killer Chimps in America”, the MonsterQuest team took a look at what is behind these chimpanzee sightings.

The Background

There is a growing concern that there may be a population of wild chimpanzees in Florida. Since 2000, there have been over 70 reports of sightings by eyewitnesses. In the fall of 2003, Steve T. Keller reported seeing a chimpanzee like creature while he was driving on a road near the Green Swamp in Florida. Scott Marlow reported seeing a wild chimpanzee in the Orlando area of Florida in 1982. With Florida having the only tropical climate in the United States, it has become the home to numerous escaped exotic animals. If the chimpanzees are among these new residents of Florida, they may be one of the most dangerous ones.

In February of 2009, Sandy Herold’s pet chimpanzee, Travis, had escaped. Travis had starred in some television commercials and had always been friendly. When Herold and her friend, Charla Nash, tried to get Travis back inside the house, the chimpanzee began to attach Nash. Herold was unable to control the chimpanzee and contacted 911 to get assistance. Captain Richard Conklin of the Stamford Connecticut Police Department described the scene of the attack as being especially gruesome. The area was extremely bloody with clothing strewn around. The chimpanzee had ravaged Nash biting her repeatedly and tearing at her. Nash lost her nose, upper and lower lips, eyelids and both hands in the attack.

When the patrol car responded to the 911 call, the chimpanzee turned its attention towards it. The chimpanzee ripped a side mirror off the car and attempted to open the passenger side door. When it could not open that door, the chimpanzee went to the driver’s side door and opened it. At this point, the responding officer shot the chimpanzee four times and it still managed to make it back to the house before dying.

Another similar attack had occurred in March of 2005. St. James and LaDonna Davis had raised a chimpanzee named Moe from birth. While visiting the chimp sanctuary where Moe was kept, four other chimps escaped from their enclosures. A large male chimpanzee attacked LaDonna and bit off her thumb. As second chimpanzee began to attack, St. James pushed LaDonna under a picnic table. The chimps then turned on St. James and brutally attacked him. He had fingers bitten off, an eye gouged out, his nose bit off, five bites to the head, four bites to the neck, his testicles were ripped off, the bottom of his left foot bitten off, and nerve damage that has left him unable to walk. A sanctuary worker eventually shot and killed the two chimpanzees.

Three years after the Davis attack, Moe escaped from the same chimpanzee sanctuary. The search for Moe was led by Martine Colette, the Director of the Wildlife Waystation. Colette says that the search lasted for five to six weeks and utilized dogs and helicopters. When no signs of Moe were found, he was presumed dead. According to Grace Hilario, this may not be the case. In July of 2008, Hilario became lost for three days while hiking in the Gorgonio Mountains. While resting on some rocks, she saw a monkey-like creature moving through the wilderness. Many believe that this may have been Moe surviving in the wild.

Scott Lope is the Director of Operations for Big Cat Rescue and is an expert on dangerous exotic pet species. He believes that it is possible for chimpanzees to be at large in wilds of Florida. Due to liability issue, many owners do not report the escape of chimpanzees. Chimpanzees and exotic animals are not well regulated, with 13 states having no laws at all about their ownership. Lope states that chimpanzees can live to be 50 years old and are very powerful and dangerous creatures once they are sexually mature.

Terry wolf is the Wildlife Director of Lion Country Safari and he believes that it would be difficult for an escaped chimpanzee to remain undetected. Any escaped chimpanzee would be familiar with people and associate people with food. This would lead to the chimpanzee to seek out contact with humans. He does agree that these chimpanzees would be dangerous as they are unpredictable. Being raised by humans, a chimpanzee would not display normal chimpanzee or human behavior.

Cryptozoologist Scott Marlow believes that Florida has a long history of escaped chimpanzees in the wild. For years roadside zoos and carnivals have wintered in Florida and many of them had escaped chimpanzees. As early as 1896, PT Barnum was displaying chimpanzees in Florida. When many of these attractions went out of business in the 1940s, they may have released chimpanzees in Florida. In May of 1952, a chimpanzee named Congo escaped from a zoo by biting his handler and scaling a six foot wall. It took a search party of 200 people to track down the animal and kill it. In December of 1963, Florida police pulled over a car that was being driven by a trained chimpanzee.

The Investigation

MonsterQuest investigates the possibility of chimpanzees existing in the wilds of Florida. They launch an investigation to search for the animals and determine if the food resources exist to support a population. They also use a cartography study to determine the similarities between Florida and a known chimpanzee habitat.

Digital Cartography

MonsterQuest utilizes the service of Stace Wright, the senior cartographer of Eureka Cartography. Wright used digital cartography to compare the Green Swamp area of Florida to the known chimpanzee habitat in Mali, Africa. Digital cartography provides a visual representation and comparison of numerous geographic and environmental conditions. Wright takes into account factors such as temperature, rainfall, vegetation and human influence. The findings indicate some minor differences with Mali being about 10 degrees warmer, at a higher altitude, and with different trees and vegetation. Overall, the two areas seem to be very similar and Wright believes that they should be able to support similar species.

Green Swamp Expedition

MonsterQuest sends an expedition to the Green Swamp of Florida in search of a wild chimpanzee population. The Green Swamp is an area of 560,000 acres between Tampa Bay and Orlando. It is home to wild boars, bob cats, alligators, cotton mouths, rattlesnakes and many eyewitness sightings of chimpanzee-like creatures.

Expert animal tracker Mark Peterson will be leading the expedition. He will be joined by Hogan Sherrow who is a professor of anthropology at Ohio University. Sherrow has spent over 3000 hours observing chimpanzees in Africa.

Peterson conducted an aerial search of the swamp using a gyro plane aircraft to find the best areas for camera traps. They decided to concentrate on areas with good water holes because a severe draught had limited water resources in the area. The watering holes gave Peterson a chance to study the tracks of animals that were in the area and he did not find any uncommon tracks near the sites.

Buckeye wireless camera traps allowed Peterson to download images from 1 ½ miles away so that human scents would not be reintroduced to the areas of the cameras. The camera trap areas were baited with chimpanzee pheromone chips in order to attract the curiosity of any chimpanzees. Recordings of chimpanzee vocalizations were used to try to attract chimpanzees to the areas of the camera traps. They also used thermal cameras on an evening search for chimpanzee nesting areas in the forest canopy. Unfortunately, all images that were captured showed known swamp dwelling creatures.

Sherrow examined the area to determine if it could support a chimpanzee population. Sherrow states that an environment needs to have a temperature without extremes, good water sources, heavy vegetation and plentiful fruit supplies in order to sustain a breeding population of chimpanzees. While the expedition did find some citrus trees, Sherrow did not think that the area had adequate fruit supplies to sustain a chimpanzee population.


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