I-Team: Surviving Chimp Finds Home in Sanctuary - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Surviving Chimp Finds Home in Sanctuary

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CJ, the chimp, will soon be moving to a sanctuary in Bend, Ore. CJ, the chimp, will soon be moving to a sanctuary in Bend, Ore.
CJ the Chimp has a snack with co-owner Lee Watkinson. CJ the Chimp has a snack with co-owner Lee Watkinson.
CJ with co-owner Timmi Derosa CJ with co-owner Timmi Derosa

LAS VEGAS -- A chimpanzee whose escape into a northwest neighborhood generated national attention is bound for a new home.

Two chimps -- CJ and Buddy-- got out of their enclosure last month, shutting down a neighborhood. Buddy was killed by police, and CJ's owners have agonized about what to do with her ever since.

Buddy's death following his escape focused attention on the plight of backyard chimps and other exotic animals.

For his owners, the death of Buddy was profoundly sad, but for CJ, there's a happy ending in sight.

For the past few years, CJ and Buddy lived in an enclosure built for them by caretaker Lee Watkinson and co-owner Timmi Derosa.

But it wasn't enough to contain Buddy, who led the escape last month and was shot by police.

The I-Team first met the two chimps and their other owner, animal trainer Nikki Riddell, back in 2002.

All three owners have agreed at one time or another that the chimps would be better off in an approved sanctuary, but they could never agree on when or where. Buddy's death changed that.

The owners put aside their differences and reached an agreement to send CJ to live out her life at a place called Chimps Inc., located near Bend, Ore. It is home to seven other rescued chimps in a near idyllic setting with green grass and play features to keep the chimps mentally and physically stimulated.

"The saddest thing is this would have been the best place for Buddy too," DeRosa said.

The owners are giving up all rights to CJ, who will live as a chimp rather than as a half human

The move is an expensive proposition, though. The current owners said they have committed to helping support CJ for the rest of her life, but they are hoping the public will chip in because the expenses are considerable.

CJ requires blood work and other certifications before she can be moved to Oregon. Her co-owners say despite all the financial and emotional hurdles, it's what's best for everyone.

"They have all the benefits of captivity," DeRosa said. "They have great food. They have treats. They have enrichment, so it's not going to be like such a shock."

Watkinson and Derosa said it breaks their hearts to say goodbye to CJ, but they, like Riddell, hope that something good comes from Buddy's death. Not just a new life for CJ but also more attention to the situation for other chimps and exotics kept in backyards.

"Eventually, they are going to get out of their cage," DeRosa said. "As terrible as it is that Buddy got shot - and it could not be worse for us personally - he could have easily have killed someone."

The owner of Chimps Inc., Lesley Day, said her staff will do its best to make CJ comfortable and happy. Day was in town to meet CJ a few days ago and the two hit it off.

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