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Friday, July 13, 2012 | 7:24 p.m.
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C.J. sat quietly alone Friday afternoon in her cage.
The 13-year-old female chimpanzee doesn’t know it yet, but her lifelong companion, Buddy, isn’t coming back.
As the 14-year-old male chimp tried to make a run for his freedom Thursday morning, he was shot and killed by a Metro Police officer.
“She just thinks that he got away,” said Lee Watkinson, one of C.J.’s caretakers. “She’s lonely. But she doesn’t know that he’s gone.”
Watkinson, a Las Vegas professional poker player, is part of the Cortland Brandenberg Foundation, a nonprofit organization set up in 2006 to help the chimps’ owner, Nikki Grusenmeyer, care for the animals.
Watkinson said the foundation had planned to eventually find Buddy and C.J. a sanctuary better than the one it built for the chimps at a residence in the 5700 block of Rowland Avenue in northwest Las Vegas.
“We’re not going to keep her here by herself. We’re going to make sure she’s with other chimps, one way or another,” Watkinson said. “It’s gotta be sooner than later.”
Watkinson talked about possibly moving C.J. to a shelter outside of Nevada, as he watched the chimp Friday afternoon alone inside her cage.
C.J. made faces, shook her head and playfully sprayed water from a hose at other foundation members, who include Watkinson’s girlfriend, Timmi DeRosa, and Miguel Guitierrez, who had been trying to help capture Buddy Thursday morning.
Buddy and C.J., who were alone, somehow broke the lock on the door of their heavy metal outdoor cage and got away, Watkinson said.
The two chimps made their way through the neighborhood and eluded capture for about an hour until C.J. was tranquilized and Buddy was shot as he crossed Ann Road near Jones Boulevard.
Watkinson said the officer did the right thing in shooting the 170-pound male chimp — Buddy was acting aggressively and was getting too close to unfamiliar people who had come out to watch the spectacle.
“The males can be sweet and loving, but when they get worked up, they can be like Jekyll and Hyde,” he said.
Watkinson said the foundation took over most of the care of the two animals from Grusenmeyer, who had purchased the chimps in the early 2000s from a Texas breeder.
The foundation rents the property from David and Sheri Potochan, whose home is adjacent to the animal’s system of connected cages, including two main living areas, which are about 60 feet by 20 feet.
The Potochans acquired special use permits from Clark County and a permit from the USDA to house the animals. Watkinson said the foundation had been wanting to move the chimps to a place where they could live out the rest of their lives.
“We want to make sure that people get the message that we’re not here keeping them as pets,” Watkinson said. He said one of the foundation’s goals is to lobby for laws against breeding chimps in captivity.
“We are very opposed to the sale and breeding of chimps for any purposes,” he said. People who hope to be able to use the chimps for commercial purposes, such as for films or TV commercials, find out the chimps are largely unwanted after they become fully grown at about age 5, he said.
“Then they get the bad press for just warehousing them for 55 years in solitary confinement,” he said.
Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said she intends to have the commission on Tuesday review the special permit allowing chimps to be kept at the property, located on a county island surrounded by city land.
“I don’t think people should have wild pets,” she said. “But we should have an allowance for what we would call a rescue or fostering.”
Giunchigliani said she didn’t realize the county had granted 26 special use permits for exotic pets. “We probably should get a better handle on these,” she said.
Las Vegas City Ward 6 Councilman Steve Ross, meanwhile, said the city is reviewing its ordinance regarding the permitting of exotic animals.
Ross said he was unaware chimpanzees were being housed in the area, which he said is a highly dense residential neighborhood.
“There are several of those county islands in the northwest,” Ross said. “It sounded like these folks did all the right things and were caring for these animals appropriately. It just sounds like an unfortunate mistake that these chimps got out.”