Officials at the Los Angeles Zoo on Wednesday were beginning to investigate what led an adult chimpanzee to fatally maul a 16-week old baby chimp in front of a crowd of visitors the previous day.
The still-unnamed baby, the first born at the zoo in 13 years, was killed by an adult male that had not shown any aggression toward the newest addition to the ape troop, zoo officials said.
The baby's mother, Gracie, was allowed to keep her child's body in a separate enclosed space overnight Tuesday so that she could have time to grieve. Gracie was not on display Wednesday and was being kept separate from the aggressor.
The Griffith Park zoo's chimpanzee troop -- at 15, one of the nation's largest -- had been separated into two groups.
Zoo officials said they had had no prior indication of any problems between the baby and the other chimps, but they noted that the behavior was not completely uncommon. Males will exhibit aggression toward babies especially if they desire the infant's mother, officials said.
"This is an unfortunate incident," zoo spokesman Jason Jacobs said Wednesday. "Chimpanzees display a wide array of social behaviors and sometimes that includes violence and aggression. There's been documented cases in the wild of similar behaviors."
The zoo released a statement that apologized to visitors who witnessed the baby's violent end.
"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," the statement read.
Grief counselors were on hand for staff Wednesday, zoo officials said.
The unnamed infant was born March 6 and was introduced to the public on May 18, when zoo officials said Gracie had proved to be a "fantastic mother" who had been very gentle with her offspring.
At the time of the May 18 unveiling of the baby, zoo officials said that another female in the troop was pregnant by the same male -- Ben -- who had mated with Gracie, and two more of his babies were likely to be born in teh next year.
Tuesday’s violence against the infant, who was gradually introduced to the coed group, was unexpected for the staffers that make up the zoo’s Great Ape Team.
When the adult male chimp began attacking the infant, zoo staff were unable to remove her from the exhibit because policy forbids them from entering the same space as the animals, which are strong and potentially dangerous.
"I felt bad for the people that saw that happen today. There were young children there that were so sad, you know, it's just really heartbreaking," said Jennie Becker, the zoo's director of mammals.
Zoo staff did not witness the killing, but said the attack occurred in front of a crowd of visitors that included children.