HAVILAH, Calif. -- Investigators said yesterday that they are trying to determine how two chimpanzees that attacked a couple visiting an animal sanctuary escaped from their cage.
The chimps chewed off St. James Davis's nose and severely mauled his genitals and limbs Thursday before the son-in-law of the sanctuary's owner shot and killed the animals, authorities said.
Davis, 62, and his wife had gone there to visit another chimp that had lived with them for decades before they were forced to give up the animal. LaDonna Davis, 64, was bitten on the hand.
''A big part of the investigation will be figuring out whether the [sanctuary] owners were in compliance with regulations," said Hal Chealander, a Sheriff's Department commander. ''There's a reason why those chimpanzees got out. It will be crucial to our investigation how they got out."
Health authorities were testing the dead chimps for rabies and other diseases.
The Davises were at Animal Haven Ranch, in a canyon 30 miles east of Bakersfield, to celebrate the birthday of Moe, a 39-year-old chimpanzee taken from their suburban Los Angeles home in 1999 after biting off part of a woman's finger.
The couple had brought Moe a cake and were standing outside his cage when Buddy and Ollie, two of the four chimpanzees in the adjoining cage, attacked St. James Davis, said Steve Martarano, a spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Game. Moe was not involved in the attack.
The chimps chewed off most of Davis's face and tore off his testicles and foot, Chealander said.
Davis was taken to Loma Linda University Medical Center, where he had surgery. The hospital would not release information on his condition.
Primate specialists say chimpanzees, which typically weigh 120 to 150 pounds and are much stronger than most humans, are known to kill chimps from neighboring groups, hunt other primates, even attack humans in the wild.
''This episode highlights some of the dangers of privately owning primates," said Steve Schapiro, who studies chimpanzee behavior at the University of Texas. ''When you maintain large, strong animals in captivity, you think you know what they're going to do, but in the end they're unpredictable."