Shootings, as info emerges, look more like panic than a safety precaution
GAVLE, Sweden––The more information emerges about the December 14, 2022 fatal shooting of four chimpanzees and wounding of another at the Furuvik Zoo, about 100 miles north of Stockholm, the Swedish capital city, the more the shootings look like an ill-informed panic response by management who did not even consult experts familiar with both the chimps and the zoo facilities before opening fire.
Initial reports about the “mass escape” of five chimps in all neglected to mention––because reporters were not allowed near the scene––that the chimps never left the Furuvik Zoo premises, may never have left the securely locked winter quarters that they shared with many other animals, and indeed were never far from their cages, despite getting out of the chimpanzee exhibit.
Closed for the winter
Further, the Furuvik Zoo itself had already closed for the winter, with a considerable buffer zone of empty cages, walkways, and perimeter fencing between the chimps and most avenues of access to the community, even if they had managed to batter their way through the exterior doors.
The chimps were in the Regnskogen, or rainforest exhibit, which backs up to the Furuvik Zoo perimeter fencing on the west side, but escaping in that direction, through deep snow in temperatures of -27 degrees Fahrenheit, five degrees centigrade, would not have attracted even chimps long housed in Sweden.
Finally, the entire vicinity was reportedly under continuous surveillance by police drones.
Why did the zoo not use a tranquilizer gun?
Acknowledging “a failure on our part” leading to the shooting of the chimpanzees Linda, Manda, Santino, and Torsten,” the Furuvik zoo management said the chimps “first got out of their enclosure and then also out of the chimpanzee house.”
The chimps were not shot with tranquilizer darts, the Furuvik zoo management continued, because “You have to be sure to hit the chimpanzee’s muscle.”
After that, “It can take a long time, between 10 and 20 minutes, for the tranquilizer to work. During that time, the chimpanzee continues to pose a danger to humans.”
But Furuvik Zoo spokesperson Annika Troselius earlier told the daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter and TV-4 that the chimps were shot, rather than tranquilized, because the zoo did not have enough tranquilizer on hand to dart all of them.
Chimps running around in snow & sub-zero weather?
Under that circumstance, darting the leader or leaders would have been one time-tested strategy, leaving the rest to be tranquilized as necessary by pills hidden in food rewards.
Of course unconscious chimpanzees could not be left outdoors for long in the extreme cold––but that factor alone suggests the chimps would soon have returned voluntarily to their exhibit, if allowed to do so, with the tranquilizer dart or darts on hand held in reserve to intercept the first chimp to try to leave the zoo, and gunfire kept as a last recourse if the tranquilizer failed and/or other chimps tried to make a jailbreak.
The youngest chimp shot, Torsten, was only three years old.
“But a young chimpanzee can be as strong as an adult human,” the zoo said, “and can thus also pose a danger to humans.”
Killed some other animals, but left the monkeys alone
The chimpanzees, while loose in the rainforest exhibit, allegedly killed six crustaceans, two tarantulas, and “a number of fish,” possibly to eat, while a turtle “had to be euthanized due to bite injuries from a chimp,” the Furuvik Zoo said.
Left unharmed, though chimps are known to eat small monkeys and reptiles, were several cotton-headed tamarins, golden-capped lion tamarins, pygmy marmosets, and a variety of snakes and iguanas.
The three surviving chimps, Maria-Magdalena, Tjobbe, and Selma, who retreated to her cage after being shot, are receiving “food, drink, , and medication and are kept under close supervision by animal keepers and veterinarians,” the Furuvik Zoo statement finished.
Selma reportedly suffered wounds to one arm and to her eye.
“She has started to move her arm and fingers, and the swelling of her eye has reduced,” the Furuvik Zoo posted to social media.
35-year primate keeper offered to help, was ignored
Former Furuvik Zoo primate keeper Ing-Marie Persson pronounced herself “pissed off” to the newspaper Afton Bladet at what she termed an “unprofessional and incredibly incompetent” response from the zoo, then elaborated at length on Facebook.
Ing-Marie Persson, after 35 years as primate keeper, and her husband, former Furuvik Zoo manager Johnny Persson, retired “10 years ago because of a change of ownership,” she explained.
“I had a unique relationship with these chimpanzees,” Persson continued, “who even in our time managed to get out of the facility,” but then “It was solved without a problem,” Persson said.
“I could take them by the hand”
“Of course, my relationship made it easier,” Persson said, “as I could take them by the hand and go back inside. I offered my services immediately, but they refused to acknowledge [the offer]. I live 20 minutes from the zoo.
“I will now dedicate my life to finding out what happened and bringing justice to my dead friends!” Persson pledged.
“Their excuse is that they don’t work with the animals the way I did. The chimpanzee group was changed. What does it matter how you work now? A 3-year-old baby [Torsten] was by Linda’s side. Linda was like a ‘daughter’ to me. What threat the little one would pose?
“Then there was an adult male that I didn’t know,” Persson acknowledged. “But the others were my closest friends. All of you who know chimpanzees know that they never forget.”
Frans de Waal
Persson posted to Facebook after Dutch primatologist and ethologist Frans de Waal offered his perspective, from personal acquaintance with several of the chimps who were killed, and as holder of the Charles Howard Candler chair as professor of primate behavior in the psychology department at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
“I myself have been among escaped chimpanzees multiple times,” de Waal testified, “and they are almost never in an aggressive mood. They seem lost and hesitant outside their territory, and are usually eager to return to where they came from.
“I have seen animal caretakers take them by the hand to lead them back,” as Persson said she did.
“I am not saying that there is no danger,” de Waal said, “but nowadays many zoos show outsized panic.
“Shooting should be the last resort”
“The procedure should be as follows, de Waal enumerated. “First, watch the escaped apes to see in what kind of mood they are. Most of the time they are just curiously walking about.
“Second, if aggressive, you may need to dart them with a tranquilizer.”
Otherwise, de Waal said, “bring in people they know and trust. This is usually not the veterinarian, and most certainly not hunters or police. Bring in animal caretakers whom they know, who will often be able to lead or lure them back.
“Shooting should always be the last resort.”
Noted de Waal, “Among the chimpanzees killed was Santino, 45, who became famous for giving a clear demonstration of planning for the future by apes, which was studied and written up by Mathias Osvath in Current Biology (www.cell.com/current-biology/pdf/S0960-9822(09)00547-8.pdf).
“Horrendous & unnecessary”
“The killing of these apes,” de Waal concluded, “was horrendous and unnecessary. The Furuvik Zoo argues that Torsten, the three-year-old male chimp, was shot because he posed a severe danger to the public. Is this truly their opinion?
“A three-year old chimp is a mere baby,” de Waal explained. “If you meet one alone, take it in your arms, it needs to be held, and will only bite if you try to restrain it, not if you’re nice and gentle. It is totally harmless. Shooting such a little ape for self-protection is one of the silliest ideas I have ever heard, equivalent to shooting a human toddler.”
“If I’d met them in the park,” said Osvath to BBC reporters, “my pulse would have risen, but I wouldn’t have been afraid for my life.
“I knew them personally”
“I knew them personally, I would say,” Osvath continued. “I’ve hugged Manda, I’ve kissed Linda, and I’ve had tugs of war with Santino.”
Added Osvath to CBC As It Happens host Nil Köksal, “They shot a three-year-old chimpanzee [Torsten], and a three-year-old chimpanzee [does] not pose any lethal threat whatsoever, but still, they thought it did, which shows to me that they might not have the right competence.”
Osvath noted that Linda, Torsten’s mother, was believed to be between six and nine years of age when Swedish diplomats rescued her from poachers in Liberia, after her mother was shot for bushmeat.
“The irony is that Linda got shot in Sweden, with a juvenile on her back,” Osvath said.
Osvath, added Mehek Mazhar of CBC, is “having second thoughts about his own research, as head of the Cognitive Zoology Group at Lund University, the university’s long-running research partner with the zoo. That collaboration was put on hold in the aftermath of the shooting.
Santino, according to the Furuvik Zoo page on Facebook, “was known for being playful, friendly and calm. He threw stones at humans, just like other chimps, but what researchers found remarkable was how he strategically stockpiled them.”
This is the behavior that Osvath observed in his landmark 2009 study.
“Everybody must get stoned”
Summarized Associated Press writer Malin Rising, “Santino the chimpanzee’s anti-social behavior stunned both visitors and keepers at the Furuvik Zoo, but fascinated researchers because it was so carefully prepared. The 31-year-old alpha male started building his weapons cache in the morning before the zoo opened, collecting rocks and knocking out disks from concrete boulders inside his enclosure. He waited until around midday before he unleashed a ‘hailstorm’ of rocks against visitors, the study said.
Explained Osvath, then a Lund University Ph.D. student, “These observations convincingly show that our fellow apes consider the future in a very complex way. It implies that they have a highly developed consciousness, including lifelike mental simulations of potential events.”
The stone-throwing behavior had been observed by Osvath and keepers for ten years.
Santino “rarely hit visitors because of his poor aim, and no one was seriously injured in the cases when he did,” Osvath told Associated Press writer Rising.
The Furuvik Zoo chimp escape and shootings evoked recollection of the January 20, 2021 shooting of Buck the chimp by Umatilla County sheriff’s deputies at the former Buck Brogoitti Animal Rescue just outside Pendleton, Oregon; the 2009 near-fatal mauling of Charla Nash by a privately owned chimp in Stamford, Connecticut; and the March 3, 2005 near-fatal mauling of former racing car driver St. James Davis by two chimps at the former Animal Haven Ranch sanctuary near Los Angeles.
But the incident probably uppermost in the minds of Furuvik Zoo management was most likely the September 27, 2020 ambush attack by Malabo, a 380-pound western lowland gorilla, on a 46-year-old female keeper at the Zoo Aquarium de Madrid, in the capital city of Spain.
The keeper suffered multiple fractures, head and chest trauma, and compound fractures of both arms.
Both the Furuvik Zoo and the Zoo Aquarium de Madrid are members of the European Association of Zoos & Aquariums.
Also relatively fresh in mind might have been the shooting of the male silverback gorilla Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo on May 28, 2016, after a four-year-old boy fell into a the moat surrounding an obsolescent exhibit that was already slated for replacement, and has since been replaced.
Descending into the moat after the boy, Harambe until shot repeatedly swung the boy by the heels, his head within inches of slamming into the concrete walls.
(See The myth & mystery of Harambe the Cincinnati Zoo gorilla, Part I, Myth: that the gorilla Harambe “protected” fallen four-year-old, Conclusion: what the life & death of Harambe the gorilla means, and The lesson from Harambe’s death is? Well, it’s not to blame mom.)
Jane Goodall Institute throws stones from glass house
The Jane Goodall Institute was, like de Waal, quick to denounce the Furuvik Zoo chimpanzee shootings, but from a much less credible position, since many of the most horrific documented chimp attacks on humans have occurred at Goodall facilities.
The most recent may have been the June 28, 2012 mauling of U.S. anthropology student Andrew Oberle, 26, by two chimpanzees named Nikki and Amadeus at the Jane Goodall Institute Chimpanzee Eden in Mpumalanga, South Africa.
Oberle lost an ear, several fingers and toes and a testicle. Placed in a medically induced coma due to blood loss, Oberle underwent six hours of surgery five days after the attack.
Jane Goodall Institute sanctuaries already had a notoriously bad safety record.
For instance, Outside magazine writer Elizabeth Royte and Gombe Stream National Park [Tanzania] director of chimp research Shadrack Kamenya, writing for Pan Africa News, in late 2002 described a May 2002 incident in which a chimp named Frodo accosted the wife and 16-year-old niece of Gombe park attendant Moshi Sadique.
The niece was carrying Sadique’s 14-month-old daughter.
Frodo, who had already attacked and beaten Jane Goodall herself in 1989, among many other previous violent incidents, tore the child away, beat her to death against a tree, disemboweled her, and was eating her brain by the time guards arrived.
Frodo, never punished for the killing, reportedly died of natural causes in 2014, at age 43.
Similar incidents reportedly occurred at Gombe in 1984, 1987, and in the 1950s.
In 2003 two Goodall Institute chimps escaped from quarantine at the Entebbe Airport in Uganda. One of them “bit off the fingers and toes of his keeper,” according to Gerald Tenywa of the New Vision newspaper in Kampala.
At large for 12 days, the chimps were eventually shot by a posse of Uganda Wildlife Authority rangers, police, and private security guards.