Chimpanzee escapes property of woman who said she’d given up chimps

FOX Files

FESTUS, Mo. – People driving on Highway CC in Jefferson County received an unexpected shock Tuesday as they witnessed an escaped chimpanzee attempt to get into a vehicle.

An escaped chimpanzee in Festus shocked drivers Tuesday. It unfolded on Highway CC in Jefferson County.

In a video of the incident posted to Facebook, you can hear a man yelling as the chimp is trying to get inside a car.

“What?!! Oh my God, he’s getting in that…oh, he’s robbing that (expletive). Oh my God!”

The video has since been taken down, but the evidence, including photo screengrabs from the Facebook post, remain in a file at Jefferson County Animal Control. You can see the animal try to get into a car before being taken back to its cage.

The scene brought a flood of unpleasant memories to 37-year-old Jason Coats. He’s a convicted felon because he shot a chimpanzee that escaped the same property in 2001. He was 17 at the time.

Coats called it the “scariest thing I’ve ever been through, hands down.”

“I went down, I got my shotgun, got my dogs in the house, and in the process, I shot the chimpanzee, ran back in the house – and for that they vilified me as some Jeffery Dahmer-type animal abuser,” he said. “I’m a convicted animal abuser. I’m a convicted felon for shooting a chimpanzee in my front yard.”

Coats used to live next door to where the chimp escaped Tuesday.

It’s Connie Casey’s property. She was known for once planning chimpanzee birthday parties. Coats thought the chimps were gone after a lawsuit by the animal rights group PETA, which included an agreement that Casey give up her chimps.

Coats said he didn’t believe reports there was an escaped chimp near his old house.

“I thought they might have been spider monkeys or capuchins or something along those lines. Nope,” he said. “Sure enough, it was another 180-pound, full-grown chimpanzee wandering the streets of Festus again.”

Tonia Haddix said Casey did give up the chimps. Haddix said she owns them because Casey gave them to her.

“I stepped up and was willing to come out there and provide that care and provide the financial support to these chimpanzees so that they could remain at the only home that they know,” she said.

Haddix said she moved a trailer on Casey’s property so she could care for the chimps.

“If anybody is concerned about the welfare of the chimps, you try to do what’s best for the chimpanzees and you’ve got to realize they’ve been raised in home-like environments so they know nothing about being wild chimpanzees,” she said.

Haddix said the chimp was not aggressive but was playful and curious when she escaped.

According to the animal control report, a veterinarian “gave two doses of the tranquilizer ketamine but the chimpanzee was still mobile and that (Connie Casey) was going to get more (ketamine) from a nearby vet.”

Haddix said the chimp, named Makayla, is one of seven she has on the property. She said Makayla escaped because a cage lock may not have properly latched. She said they later found the open lock on the ground near the cage, as if Makayla discovered the problem and removed the lock.

“Honestly, they are my kids you know,” Haddix said. “You get to know each of them.”

Casey did not respond to our requests for a comment. Fox 2 first reported on her in 2009 after a series of high-profile chimp attacks led to PETA’s lawsuit.

That lawsuit led to a 2018 agreement in which Casey would give up her chimpanzees. That arrangement is what brought Haddix to take over.

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