ROBERTS - In Carbon County, they’ve put the clamps on a chomping chimp.
This week, emergency dispatchers received calls about carousing chimpanzees. The first one Monday afternoon reported that a chimp was running down a road between Roberts and Boyd. The second, barely a half-hour later, reported that a chimp had bitten a woman.
Sheriff’s Deputy Jon Croft, who responded to the second call, declined to comment, saying that the incident is being investigated.
But he did confirm that the animal was being held under quarantine at the owner’s residence near Roberts.
The owner, Jeanne Rizzotto, is a real estate
agent who has raised the two chimpanzees like her children. She said the escape was the result of vandalism.
"Someone cut my locks and let them out in the highway," she said.
Rizzotto said law enforcement is reviewing videotape taken by her security cameras. The chimps live in a 7,000-square-foot enclosure that includes a 2,800-square-foot indoor facility connecting into Rizzotto’s home from a breezeway. Both have their own beds and wear pajamas. One can dress himself and is toilet-trained.
Rizzotto denied that either of the chimps - Connor and Kramer are both roughly 6 years old and weigh about 75 pounds - had bitten anyone. The alleged victim, however, was taken to Beartooth Hospital in Red Lodge for treatment, according to dispatchers.
Carbon County Attorney Bob Eddleman said this is not the first time there has been talk of one of the chimps biting someone. But, it is the first time he’s aware that a bite has been reported to law enforcement.
Rizzotto said she was alerted to the chimps’ escape after returning home from Red Lodge. Her son retrieved one chimp from a field nearby and they discovered the other at a neighbor’s residence. She said the officer pointed a gun at the chimp, but Rizzotto stepped in front of the gun, picked up the chimp and returned to her property.
Don "Doc" Woerner of the Laurel East Pet Hospital serves as a veterinarian for ZooMontana. He described the situation as "almost unbelievable." He said a chimp bite could be compared to a human bite for its potential to transmit disease.
"It’s about the worst bite you can get, much worse than a dog," he said.
The chimps are being quarantined for rabies, which is unlikely, he said. But there is a potential for herpes or other infections. He believed the chimps had limited veterinary care in the past.
Dr. Eric Klaphake, who also serves as a veterinarian for ZooMontana, said he advised a tetanus shot for the alleged victim and a broad spectrum of antibiotics to address the bacteria that could be present.
Klaphake, who has worked with chimps and other primates at several large zoos, said chimps can do damage when they want to.
"They literally chew fingers off, chew noses off and attack the genitalia in men," he said.
They also have a tendency to retaliate, he said. While working at the Knoxville Zoo in Tennessee, he shot darts at the resident chimps to prepare them for their annual physical exams. Two years after he had left the zoo, he returned as a visitor. Even in the midst of a group of other visitors, the male chimps immediately picked him out, came up to the fence and made threatening gestures, he said.
"Of all of the animals I’ve had under my care, my worst nightmares are about chimps getting loose," he said. "I’d almost rather face a tiger or polar bear."
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