Sueko, the enormous pet chimpanzee that ran wild Tuesday in a Kansas City neighborhood, is headed to the Kansas City Zoo for the second time in her life.
This time, officials expect her to stay.
But assimilating her into the chimp exhibit will be a lengthy, painstaking process, said Zoo Director Randy Wisthoff, because she has essentially been treated like a human for 21 years.
Zoo workers must help Sueko adjust to a new diet, a new environment, and a social structure with other chimps.
The ape, whose weight was initially estimated by police at 300 pounds, could be transferred to the zoo as early as today. Wisthoff said the chimp was large, but probably weighs less than 200 pounds.
Still, he said, “it looks like she hasn’t missed a meal.”
City officials said the decision to take Sueko from the owner who raised her since she was a baby was “in the best interest of the community and the animal,” according to a press release issued Wednesday.
The only other choice would have been to euthanize her, city officials said, and they wanted to avoid that.
The chimp’s owner has been in and out of legal trouble with Sueko since 1995. David Park, director of the Neighborhood Community Services Department, said the city could legally take Sueko because of the repeated infractions.
The city first confiscated the chimp in 1995 and sent her to the zoo after she was accused of biting humans. She was introduced to a male chimp and was showing significant progress, but was returned to her owner, Mark Archigo, after he threatened legal action and he promised to keep her outside of Kansas City.
Park said that violation was the first documented one, so the city didn’t have as strong a legal ground as it does now to permanently remove the ape from Archigo, an over-the-road trucker.
“We have much more history to support the decision,” he said.
Sueko is the first pet that the zoo will try to integrate. Wist-hoff said the zoo had integrated other animals, including an elephant and chimpanzees, but they came from other zoos.
A male chimp at the zoo died in August shortly after being placed in a group with other males as part of the zoo’s plan to assimilate two chimp troops. The cause of death has not been released.
Wisthoff said the apes aren’t meant to live solitary lives.
“Their normal social structure is to be in a troop,” he said.
Sueko will be quarantined at the zoo for at least 30 days, Wisthoff said. After the quarantine, officials plan to move Sueko to an isolated holding stall in the chimp building. Later, they will allow her to see other chimps and then let them see her.
The next step would be to select several chimps to place in an enclosure next to her enclosure with a solid door separating them. The door would later be replaced with one with holes that fingers could poke through.
“Down the road, we would allow her to be put in with a chimp or two and then add more to the mix,” he said. “This whole process could take weeks, or months or years.”
Zoo workers will proceed slowly through the steps to ensure Sueko’s safety and happiness, Wisthoff said.
Workers also will have to transition Sueko’s diet from human food to a chimp’s fare of fruits and greens. She also will have to learn to forage for food instead of having it served on a plate.
All the hard work will be worth it, Wisthoff said, to give Sueko a better life. He said Sueko could live 30 more years. The zoo has 15 chimps, one of the largest collections among zoos. The oldest is 47 years old.
The zoo will offer a much different life than the one Sueko has been living. She reportedly is toilet-trained and has traveled with Archigo — sleeping on a second-tier bunk in the cab of the semi, police said.
Archigo could not be reached for comment. Animal control officials said they have not talked with Archigo.
His legal troubles include a Jackson County ordinance conviction in 2000 for harboring a dangerous animal. Sueko picked up a girl by her ankles and tossed her to the ground.
Archigo got two years’ probation and was supposed to relinquish Sueko to a preserve. But Archigo somehow got the chimp back. She was spotted alone in a vehicle at a truck stop in 2003 and alone in a van around that same time in the same neighborhood where she escaped Tuesday.
Archigo told police he locked Sueko in a cage Tuesday inside his semi-tractor trailer, which was parked on a vacant lot in the 7700 block of Indiana Avenue. But neighbors thought the chimp may have been tied to a tree because she had a rope around her neck and was dragging a chain with two padlocks on it.
She ran through the neighborhood, scaring walkers, pounding on passing cars and breaking a police car’s windshield. The incident was recorded on the patrol car’s video camera. She also pointed and laughed at residents and made obscene gestures, witnesses said.
After about 40 minutes, an animal control officer hit Sueko with a tranquilizer dart and she climbed into a cage in Archigo’s van. He drove her — with a police escort — to Monkey Island, a primate sanctuary in Greenwood, where she is housed temporarily.