Report: Employees attacked by chimps at Oregon sanctuary

The workers suffered “amputations, choking, grabbing and biting.”

Associated Press

BEND, Ore. — Employees of a chimpanzee sanctuary in central Oregon were harmed by the animals by way of “amputations, choking, grabbing and biting,” a report by a state workplace safety agency said.

The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division found 10 safety and policy violations that could result in more than $20,000 in fines for Chimps Inc. in Tumalo, The Bulletin reported .

Prompted by three separate complaints filed in April, the agency inspected the sanctuary three times earlier this year.

The sanctuary opened in 1995 and houses seven rescued chimps.

In the 541-page report, the agency identified 30 episodes of safety problems and employee injuries over the years. Employees were exposed to physical harm that included cage doors being left open leading to chimps escaping or attacking workers. These unsecured cage doors resulted in the bites, scratches, skin torn off hands and at least four finger or thumb amputations, according to the report.

The sanctuary did not report these injuries to the state, according to the report.

The report linked many of the safety issues to sanctuary founder Lesley Day’s failure to follow the sanctuary’s protocols. Day would leave the cage doors unlocked, which would put employees arriving the next day at danger, according to the report.

“Oregon OSHA identified and concluded the root cause of most, if not all, injuries, escapes and incidents are due to the sanctuary founder Lesley Day’s access to, and failure to secure the sanctuary’s chimpanzees,” the report stated.

According to the Bend Bulletin, the report notes that Day lost her right pinkie finger in July 2013 when a chimpanzee bit it off.

Day stepped down as president of the sanctuary earlier this year.

Sanctuary officials said most of the safety issues have already been addressed, and they’re seeking clarification on the remaining concerns.

“They have to do their job, and we have to try to abide by what they say and make sure we are the safest we can be,” said Marla O’Donnell, executive director of the sanctuary.

The sanctuary is also appealing the agency’s findings.

Three former employees have also filed complaints with the state Bureau of Labor and Industries. Bureau officials said these complaints are still being investigated.

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