ASSOCIATED PRESS June 27, 2012 9:18AM
Updated: June 27, 2012 9:26AM
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.
"Everything that we saw has been positive, all the chimps have been very interested, wanting to either be close to, or touch the baby," Jennie Becker, the zoo's curator of mammals, told KCAL-TV.
Witnesses told the TV station the adult chimp took hold of the infant chimp, kept her away from the rest of the troop then began to hit the infant in the head.
Chimpanzees can sometimes show surprising aggression, Jacobs 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.
Zoo officials were still investigating the circumstances behind the attack, but said they may need to consider changing their approach to new arrivals.
"We're going to have to consider, at what age maybe we introduce babies to the group," Becker said. "I didn't think that this was going to be a problem. These are all experienced, social chimps."