Thursday, September 25, 2008

Experts Say Missing Moe Likely Dead

Missing for three months, Moe the chimp has likely not survived life in the wild, according to a chimpanzee expert.

Raised like a human child by his West Covina owners, Moe lacks the animal instincts he would need to live in the forest, said chimpanzee expert Lauren Arenson.

"When you say he is eating nachos, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, had birthday cakes and toys, these are all things we expect a young child to have, not an adult chimp," said Arenson, an anthropology professor at Pasadena City College who formerly at the Los Angeles Zoo. "He hasn't developed all those skills necessary for a chimp to survive in the wild."

Moe escaped June 27 from his enclosure at Jungle Exotics, a Devore company that houses animals and provides them to the entertainment industry.

After Moe's disappearance, volunteers and hired hands searched for the primate with bloodhounds, helicopters, pet detectives and cameras, but much of those efforts ended when funds ran dry.

"How is he going to know which plant to eat or which not to eat?" Arenson said. "This is something he would have learned from his mom, not his human parents."

Helicopter sounds tend to frighten animals like chimpanzees, and could have sent Moe into further hiding, Arenson said.

"That is a highly social species and he is out there by himself, so it is not looking good," she said.

It has been nearly three months since Moe was last seen and leads haven't produced any results. Even without any sign of Moe, the chimpanzee's owners hold out hope he will be found alive.

"Do we think he is still out there? Yes," said Michael McCasland, a liaison between Moe's owners - La Donna and St. James Davis of West Covina - and Jungle Exotics.

McCasland's hopes are founded in the idea that people have been on the lookout for ravens, vultures and other predatory birds, but there haven't been any sightings that have led to Moe.

St. James Davis admitted it would be difficult for Moe to survive this long in the mountains, but said the search will continue.

"I know he would want to come home and we would love to have him home," he said.

Davis first found Moe in Tanzania in 1967 after Moe's mother had been killed by poachers. Davis, a merchant marine at the time, brought Moe home with him.

The Davises kept Moe in their West Covina home for about three decades before they were challenged in court to remove the animal. They fought to keep Moe, but a couple of violent incidents forced the Davises to send Moe to a private sanctuary in 1999. Moe bit off the finger of a woman who had put her hand through his cage and he mauled the hand of a police officer.

In 2005, while visiting Moe for his birthday at a sanctuary in Bakersfield, the Davises were attacked by two other chimpanzees who had escaped their cages. St. James was nearly killed in the incident.

Moe was then moved to the Jungle Exotics facility, where he was before escaping into the San Bernardino National Forest.

"We are still actively trying to figure out what happened," LaDonna Davis said.

If he chose to, Moe could remain "aloof," Arenson said. Chimpanzees are highly intelligent creatures, adults are about six times stronger than the average man, and Moe could easily make himself disappear in the tops of trees in the forest, Arenson said.

"Chimps in the wild can do that quite well," she said.

The state Department of Fish and Game is investigating if Jungle Exotics violated conditions of its permit in the escape incident. They also want to know if Jungle Exotics failed to report Moe missing as soon as he was gone.

That investigation is expected to be completed within the next two weeks, Fish and Game spokesman Harry Morse said.

Story here.

1 comment:

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