The chimpanzee that died at the Kansas City Zoo after falling from a tree was attacked by other members of a troop to which he had been introduced just a few months ago.
Bahati, a 31-year-old male, apparently was chased up a tree by antagonistic chimps in the zoo’s spacious and woodsy exhibit on Wednesday morning. In an effort to evade his attackers, the chimp grabbed a branch that could not support his weight, zoo officials said. He fell 30-40 feet.
But the animal did not die on impact. He was set upon by other chimps who pummeled him and chased him into a ditch. The zoo said staffers called all the chimps back to their holding barn.
“Bahati was able to walk back to the building as well,” a zoo spokeswoman told The Star. “He was then evaluated by our veterinarians and moved to the animal health facility.”
There the ape died of internal injuries. By protocol, the zoo reported the primate’s death to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the Department of Agriculture. The agency will review the incident.
Chimpanzee society is based on rankings of authority, which are worked out among members of a grouping.
Bahati, who was born at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, had been living at the Tampa zoo until last summer when the keepers of the Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan, an arrangement among North American zoos to preserve genetic diversity, decided he should join Kansas City’s 12-member chimp grouping.
“After going through a quarantine period, he went through a very methodical pace of introductions to the rest of the chimpanzees,” zoo spokeswoman Kim Romary said in a statement. “He fully joined the troop in the habitat this past February, and they have been together since without any major incidents. Unfortunately, chimpanzee interactions can change without any warning. Skirmishes are often a part of chimpanzee society and a means of maintaining the hierarchical structure within that society.”
At least a few zoo visitors witnessed the chimp fight about 9 a.m. Wednesday. The exhibit was closed for the remainder of the day but has since reopened.
In 2012, the zoo was reprimanded by the Department of Agriculture after a male chimpanzee died of starvation. The federal oversight agency found the animal weighed less than 94 pounds, compared to the normal weight of about 150 pounds for an adult chimpanzee. Staffers said they had been unable to weigh the 13-year-old animal, named Nusu, because the other chimps would not let him get to the food used to lure the chimps to the scale.
“We have a wonderful 3-acre, fully treed and bushed exhibit that’s very naturalistic for all of the chimps to go around – probably one of the most naturalistic that you’ll see in the world,” Sean Putney, senior director of zoological operations, said in a video the zoo posted online.
“But when you have 12 chimps out here and climbing trees, sometimes 30-40-50 feet in the air, the reality is a slip, a jump, holding on to a wrong branch can lead to tragedy. You’d hope that being a chimp that doesn’t happen because they’re excellent climbers. But anytime you have animals together in an exhibit, unfortunately, bad things can happen. We try to do our job in preventing that as much as we possibly can.”