KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A violent exchange in a chimpanzee exhibit leaves an animal dead and the Kansas City Zoo staff mourning his loss.
Zoo regular Harold Miller said he's spent many mornings walked to the three-acre chimpanzee exhibit. He didn't realize Wednesday morning he was about to watch Bahati, a chimpanzee, fall about 40 feet to his death.
"I heard the chimps making a racket even before I got near to the enclosure," Miller said.
"It was obvious there was a lot more screaming this morning. Our staff went out to investigate and obviously saw that one of our chimpanzees, Bahati, was being chased," Zoological Operations Senior Director Sean Putney said.
Putney said the 31-year-old chimp climbed onto a branch that couldn't support his weight.
"He ended up falling and getting some pretty severe internal injuries," Putney said.
"Several of them raced up one of the trees and it looked like they were fighting and squabbling back and forth," Miller said.
He used his cell phone camera to capture the moments after Bahati's fall. You can hear children in the background asking: "Mean monkeys! Why would they tackle the guy that fell? They should help him because he fell out of the tree!"
Putney said chimps fight from time to time to establish dominance, but Wednesday morning's aggression level was unexpected. He said the group of 12 chimpanzees have been together since February and get along well, with the exception of the expected, natural skirmishes.
He said the zoo staff is heartbroken and they're sorry guests saw Bahati's fall.
"We know that animals are born and animals die and everywhere in between, but we want people to be able to come out and experience the lighter side of the zoo and not have to deal with the tragedy," Putney said.
Miller will continue to visit the zoo often, but he said he won't visit the chimpanzee exhibit with the reminder of Wednesday's events.
"Of course these things happen in the wild and we don’t know about it but when it’s there in a controlled environment, it’s a bit more difficult to observe," he said.
The chimps' caretakers took the rest of the animals in the exhibit inside for the day Wednesday. The zoo applauded them and the Animal Health staff for their quick work, attributed to strong training. Medical staff will perform a procedure to find out exactly what killed Bahati, and then the chimp will get buried on zoo property.