LAS VEGAS – A chimpanzee who rampaged through a Las Vegas neighborhood last month made a second escape from her backyard enclosure this weekend, but her caretaker thinks she had human help this time.
Timmi De Rosa says the 13-year-old chimp, CJ, didn't get loose Saturday by bending steel bars without help. She thinks someone let CJ out of her cage. De Rosa says the 180-pound animal was captured quickly and was never a threat to neighbors.
The chimp was turned over to an animal entertainer for safekeeping before going to a sanctuary in Oregon.
On July 12, CJ and her mate Buddy broke free and roamed the neighborhood, pounding on vehicles and climbing in an unoccupied car. An officer shot and killed Buddy when the animal frightened bystanders.
Buddy was the more aggressive male companion and "worked 24/7 trying to break out" of his enclosure — he finally busted through a pair of double gates, De Rosa said.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector that visited the chimps' enclosure after the first escape cited a number of "noncompliance" issues, according to a July 17 report obtained by The Associated Press.
Inspectors said the joint between a block wall and a metal gate had been damaged, and that a secondary gate around the main enclosure wasn't locked at the time of the escape.
The chimps escaped just hours before a welder was scheduled to fix gate hinges, De Rosa said.
De Rosa said CJ was never motivated to break out of the enclosure, and she doesn't think she did it without help.
However, her fiancé and the chimps' other caretaker, Lee Watkinson, said CJ was capable of bending and breaking steel bars if she wanted.
"You have no idea how strong a chimpanzee is," he said.
The Human Society says the incident underscores Nevada's lack of rules on keeping exotic pets.
"The same chimpanzee escaping twice in less than a month underscores that large, powerful exotic animals should not be kept as pets. Nevada is one of just six states with no rules on the private ownership of dangerous wild animals, and it's a free-for-all that puts people and animals at risk," said Holly Haley, the Humane Society's Nevada state director.
De Rosa and Watkinson are not the chimps' owners. They said they were caring for the chimps at the nearby home of the owner. The chimps were housed in a yard-sized enclosure in the neighbor's backyard.
"We don't think people should own chimps. We found these chimps in a horrible condition" six years ago, De Rosa said. They built what they thought was a more secure and larger enclosure.
"We changed our lives to take care of these chimpanzees," De Rosa said. "I guess we should have had 24-hour security."
The caretakers were given a mid-August deadline to address the issues noted in the USDA inspection, which included cleaning up areas around the cage. USDA spokesman David Sacks said Friday that his agency was still deciding whether to launch an investigation. If investigators determined Animal Welfare Act rules had been broken, the owner could face fines of up to $10,000 per violation.
CJ's caretakers had been planning to take her by the end of August to Chimps Inc. of Bend, Ore., a sanctuary where she would interact with other chimps.
The day before the second escape, CJ's caretakers said she'd been enjoying the human attention and camera crew visits that came with her fame and seemed unfazed by her companion's absence. However, she was showing signs of unhappiness.
"She was like a sad dog who just sat there," De Rosa said.
During her escape Saturday, CJ rollicked in the neighborhood, played with garden hoses, and even appeared to enjoy her roundup. She became agitated when an animal-control officer showed up with a tranquilizer gun — the same officer who responded to the earlier breakout.
"She screamed. I think she recognized the guy," Watkinson said.
The caretakers say they no longer have authority over CJ but are trying to expedite plans for the chimp's transfer to the sanctuary.
"Animal control did a good job," Watkinson said. "We've always said they did what they had to do."