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I-Team: Inside Chimps' Lives Before Deadly Shooting | News

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I-Team: Inside Chimps' Lives Before Deadly Shooting

LAS VEGAS -- The story of Buddy the chimpanzee's death is a sad one, but one with no discernible bad guys.

At every step of their lives, Buddy and his chimp pal CJ were adored, even spoiled, by humans who absolutely loved them.

But in a sense, it was that unbounded affection that led to Buddy being killed in the street by police, and has left CJ living in a backyard cage by herself.

"Shame on the industry that breeds them for profit or entertainment," animal welfare activist Linda Faso said. "They are darling when they are babies and deadly when they are adults."

Chimp Saga Ends in Northwest Las Vegas Neighborhood

Faso has no personal stake in the lives of CJ and Buddy, but she has followed them closely since they were babies. Five days before the chimps escaped and Buddy was killed, Faso called the property owners where the chimps have lived for the past several years and asked about moving them out of the backyard and into a proper sanctuary.

"She told me, ‘they're happy there and they're not going anywhere,'" Faso said.

The property owner Sheri Potochan and her husband Dave had their own reason for not wanting the chimps to leave the $700 per month they were paid to house the chimp enclosure in their yard. Although the Potochans were listed on the county permit for the chimp enclosure, they are not the owners.

CJ and Buddy were originally purchased from a Texas breeder by animal trainer Monica Nikki Riddell, well known in England for her work with exotics, and who wanted to build an animal sanctuary in Las Vegas.

She said she paid $60,000 for CJ who was an infant and $25,000 for Buddy who was sickly since birth. Riddell raised them like human babies in a spacious home for a few years. Dominique Tordjman assisted her in raising them.

"I love them," she said. "They were like my kids. I bottle fed them every two hours when CJ was 4 weeks to two-and-a-half."

But as the chimps grew older and bigger, they were harder to handle. Riddell's husband died, money grew tight and she had health problems. She began paying the Potochans to house CJ and Buddy on their property.

World class poker player Lee Watkinson and his girlfriend Timmi Derosa pitched in. They put more than $100,000 into building a better enclosure with its own air conditioning, heat and even televisions for the chimps.

"We didn't want to own chimps," Derosa said. "It was never our intention to own chimps."

Over time, relations between the various parties deteriorated. No one could agree on what was best for the chimps in the long term. Watkinson and Derosa eventually convinced Riddell to sign over half ownership in light of all the money they poured into caring for the chimps. There was talk about taking them to a sanctuary but the years went by and the move was never made.

"Physically they looked healthy," Tordjman said. "Mentally, they were always trying to get out."

Tordjman said Buddy was an escape artist since he was a baby. Neighbors said the chimps frequently shrieked and tried to escape. According to Riddell, they did manage to get out of the cage on six previous occasions. They were also becoming more aggressive with their handlers.

Tordjman said she was bitten by one of the chimps.

"I know Buddy threw Nikki and, I believe, Lee against the fence," Tordjman said. "I know he bit Lee. But they were never reported because they love them."

Derosa said she also was hit by Buddy.

"I know what it's like to be hit by Buddy and it's not nice and it's not fun," she said. "Ninety-nine percent of the time he was happy. One percent of the time he wasn't and he was in a really bad mood."

One thing that helped soothe the chimps was visits from Joey, another chimp believed by Riddell to be Buddy's half brother.

Joey is not on the books anywhere. He is owned by a Las Vegas man, raised as a human baby, but isn't registered with any government agencies. Visits from Joey always boosted the spirits of CJ and Buddy. Derosa said she thinks the visits will be especially important for Joey now that CJ is alone.

Faso, the animal activist, said, "The man who has Joey loves him and wants the best. People have all along. I'm sure he wants to do the best thing. Some have a hard time letting go but Joey could become Buddy in five to six years."