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Escaped chimp resting at magician’s house, headed for sanctuary

CJ, the escape artist chimp, was resting comfortably at the Las Vegas home of magician Dirk Arthur on Sunday.

Eventually, the chimp is bound for a sanctuary in Oregon.

After the primate’s second escape was foiled Saturday afternoon, she was transported to the Southern Nevada Zoological-Botanical Park because Clark County Animal Control officers “weren’t comfortable” with how secure her cage was, a source with knowledge of the investigation told the Review-Journal on Sunday.

Then the chimp was turned over to Arthur, who has used wild animals in his act for years. He has a cage large enough for the chimp, the source said.

CJ and partner Buddy escaped July 12 from their cage at 5720 Rowland Ave. A Las Vegas police officer shot and killed Buddy as he “aggressively approached” a group of onlookers, according to a Las Vegas police spokesman. CJ was tranquilized by North Las Vegas police, who also responded to the first escape.

That day, Buddy had ripped his cage from the concrete and then broken through a padlocked gate in a rage. When he tried to cross Ann Road toward a residential neighborhood, he was shot by police.

The escape prompted Clark County commissioners to pursue tighter county regulations for owning exotic animals.

Changes will include verifying the education and expertise of someone wanting to own exotic animals, requiring Animal Control officers to conduct annual inspections and requesting input from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on applications for exotic pets.

Those proposed changes are in contrast to how the county treats keeping exotic animals now: as a land use issue rather than examining an owner’s qualifications to care for the animal.

CJ’s caretaker, Timmi De Rosa, told The Associated Press she thought the chimp had human help during her second escape.

De Rosa said the 13-year-old chimp didn’t get loose Saturday by bending steel bars without help, and she thinks someone let CJ out of her cage. De Rosa said the 180-pound animal was captured quickly and was never a threat to neighbors.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector who 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 that 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 hours before a welder was scheduled to fix gate hinges, De Rosa said.

De Rosa said she suspects foul play. But her fiance 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.

Humane Society officials say the incident spotlights 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 and planning a better life for them. The chimps were housed in a yard-sized enclosure in the neighbor’s backyard in a residential neighborhood.

“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.

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 and ensuring veterinary records were in order. USDA spokesman David Sacks said Friday that his agency was still deciding whether to launch an investigation into the case.

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.

A source said CJ’s owners and caretakers have signed over her ownership on the condition that she will be released to the sanctuary.

According to its website, the group is asking for donations to take care of CJ, which it said is short for “Calamity Jane.” The animal group estimates the chimp’s living expenses are about $1,200 monthly, not including medical costs.

A note to Buddy, CJ’s mate, also was included: “Your spirit will live on in your chimp friend, CJ. She will live everyday of her life for you too.”

The day before the second escape, CJ’s caretakers said she had been enjoying the human attention and camera crew visits that came with her fame and was 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.

On Saturday during her escape, CJ frolicked in the neighborhood, playing 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. “She ran behind me, using me as a shield. I kept moving, so she went around to the back of a vacant house.”

Review-Journal reporter Kristi Jourdan and Associated Press reporters Michelle Rindels and Paul Foy contributed to this report.

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