Chimpanzee at center of legal tug-of-war

March 7, 2011 at 9:09 PM
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KANSAS CITY, Mo., March 7 (UPI) -- The Kansas City Zoo and a trucker are at odds over custody of a chimpanzee, given to the zoo after it went on a rampage in a city neighborhood, officials say.

Sueko, a female adult chimpanzee, was confiscated by the city after she escaped from truck driver Mark Archigo in October, The Kansas City (Mo.) Star reported Monday. Zoo officials said she was overweight and apparently enjoyed a diet heavy on people food, living with Archigo and his girlfriend.

She's on a fruits and vegetable diet now, zoo officials say, and has lost weight.

"She looks good now," Liz Harmon, general curator at the zoo, said. "She looks like our other girls. She was pretty chunky."

Sueko remains at the center of a tug-of-war between Kansas City and Archigo and John Michael Oyer, who claims to own Sueko, who want Sueko back. The city has charged Archigo and his girlfriend, Deborah Kaumans, with keeping or harboring a non-human primate within the limits of Kansas City.

Oyer says the city has "illegally confiscated his property" and that her time in the zoo is "undoing years of hard work and training."

Officials say they won't try to assimilate Sueko into their chimp population until her legal status is resolved.

"Because of the strong social bond and how difficult it is to get chimps together, it's equally hard on them to separate them," said zoo Director Randy Wisthoff. "We wouldn't even think about that process until we knew for sure whose property she was."

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