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Palm Harbor chimp attack victim harbors no hard feelings

PALM HARBOR — Andrea Maturen is bruised, battered and shaken, but she doesn't want any harm to come to the chimpanzee that attacked her.

"I love her. It's not her fault,'' Maturen, 22, said Tuesday while standing in the courtyard of the chimp sanctuary where she was attacked. "She doesn't need to be punished for it."

Shawn, an 11-year-old chimpanzee, scratched, bit and chased Maturen, who was cleaning an adjacent cage at the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary on Friday. Maturen spent the weekend in a hospital, where doctors cleaned an elbow wound and stitched up others on the back of her head and thighs, she said.

Maturen, who had volunteered at the center for five years, played games with chimps, fed them sandwiches and told them stories, she said.

"I've never had a negative experience with any of the chimps, including Shawn," Maturen told a throng of media at a news conference Tuesday. "I consider them all my family."

In fact, Maturen said she believed it was that bond that limited her injuries.

"You don't understand how extremely blessed I am that Shawn the chimp likes me and did not go for my face," said Maturen, whose arm was wrapped in layers of gauze and who had a few small scratches above her right eye.

Maturen said the incident was her fault because she didn't follow protocol. Before she started cleaning an adjacent cage, Maturen was supposed to make sure Shawn and her sister, Lucy, were in a cage farther away, and to lock the door between the cages. The chimps were able to lift the door between the cages. Shawn jumped on Maturen's back and began to bite and scratch her. Maturen said fellow worker Tina Ercolano helped her get away.

"She's the reason, I'm sure, that I'm alive," said Maturen, who is studying biology and works as a dog trainer.

Ercolano squirted Shawn with a hose to make her back off.

The sanctuary's outreach coordinator, Debbie Cobb, said Shawn's behavior was instinctual.

Doctors told Maturen she'll also need surgery for damaged tendons in her right hand.

Her father, William, said she doesn't have health insurance. He said Maturen signed paperwork at the hospital for some type of assistance. Cobb didn't outright offer for the sanctuary to pay, he said, but told him not to worry — it would help out some way.

Shawn will likely be okay, officials said. Maturen signed a waiver saying she doesn't want Shawn tested for rabies. Otherwise, Shawn would have been killed because, for exotic animals, the rabies test requires examination of brain tissue, said Lt. Steve DeLacure, an investigator for the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The Pinellas County deputy who responded to the incident Friday accused sanctuary workers of being uncooperative.

Cobb said workers were focused on locking down the facility and making sure no one else was hurt.

She said they didn't call 911 because they knew someone else had done so. In his report, the deputy said he heard one of the workers say colleagues did not call authorities because they didn't want the media to hear the report on police scanners.

DeLacure said his agency completed its investigation, finding that "the sanctuary is not criminally liable."

Maturen said she may volunteer there in the future. But she was apprehensive Tuesday about even entering the sanctuary.

"I don't feel comfortable going in the building right now," she said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

Palm Harbor chimp attack victim harbors no hard feelings 02/16/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 10:41pm]
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