July 3rd, 2012
10:49 AM ET

U.S. student has surgery after savage attack by chimps

An American student is in critical condition after undergoing two operations after chimpanzees tore apart his body in front of tourists at a South African animal sanctuary, a hospital spokeswoman told CNN on Tuesday.

Andrew Oberle, a primatology student from University of Texas at San Antonio, was being treated at a Johannesburg hospital after two chimps attacked him Thursday, spokeswoman Robyn Baard said.

Oberle had been at the Jane Goodall Institute's Chimp Eden since May, according to Eugene Cussons, the facility's managing director. Oberle was at the sanctuary, near Nelspruit, South Africa, for the second time after training and volunteering there in 2010.  His training included an explanation about "no-go" areas - spaces for animals where people are not supposed to go.

Witnesses to the attack said that Oberle went into a no-go area because he seemed to want to remove a stone close to one of the animals that could have been picked up and thrown around, Cussons told CNN.

Oberle crossed one barrier and approached a second one, which is a main fence with 24 strands of electrical wiring, Cussons said. Two male chimps grabbed Oberle and tried to drag him under the fence, but were not able to yank him into their enclosure.

Cussons said he estimates the attack lasted 15 minutes.

At some point, people tried to stop the chimps, and Cussons shot two rounds in the air to see if that might get them to retreat, he said. One of the chimps then charged at Cussons, he said. Cussons shot that chimp in the abdomen, he told CNN, and it seemed to shriek as a kind of signal to other chimps that there was a more powerful threat present. The chimps then backed off, he said.

Oberle was rescued and transported for medical care.

None of the 13 tourists - most of them from local areas - were harmed, officials said.

The chimp that was shot had an operation at the Johannesburg zoo to repair damage to his small and large intestines.

Hospital spokeswoman Baard declined to discuss the nature of Oberle's wounds. She said the student's parents had requested privacy, adding that they are "quite traumatized."

The sanctuary, which is featured in the Animal Planet program "Escape to Chimp Eden," remains closed and its staff is receiving counseling, executive director David Oosthuizen said.

There are no plans right now to euthanize the chimps involved in the attack, said Dries Pienaar, who is leading the investigation into the incident. He works for a parks agency that makes sure zoos, sanctuaries and breeding projects comply with the law. Pienaar told CNN that his preliminary findings are that human error is to blame, but he cautioned that his investigation is not complete and that he wants to interview Oberle. He hasn't spoken to all of the tourists yet, either.

Chimp Eden was established as a home for rescued chimpanzees. Many of the primates have suffered "horrible injuries and abuse from humans," according to the sanctuary.

Dave Salmoni, an expert in large predators for the television channel Animal Planet, said abused and captive chimpanzees can be particularly dangerous, likening the chimps to troubled prison inmates.

"Now this is a very nice prison, but it's a prison nonetheless," he said Monday. "And that's why you can see a lot of acting out behavior, and in some cases, with chimpanzees, they act out just because they can."

Oberle was passionate about studying chimpanzees, his friend Anthony Reimherr told CNN affiliate KXAN-TV. He said it was "intriguing" to listen to Oberle when he spoke about the animals.

"It's just something that he loved to do, and I think it's something that he'll always continue to do," Reimherr said.

soundoff (295 Responses)
  1. IbetIgetcensored

    Sounds like bad "Monkey Buisness" to me.

    July 4, 2012 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
  2. IbetIgetcensored

    His training included an explanation about "no-go" areas – spaces for animals where people are not supposed to go.

    It has to be said "There's Your Sign"

    July 4, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Hear Ye

    Chimp hell? Leave the animals in their own environments and stop treating them like humans or silly pets.
    Same goes for dogs, cats, snakes and lizards.

    July 5, 2012 at 6:24 am | Report abuse |
  4. Lyn

    The story of this event has changed dramatically from when it was first published. The first time, it said that the young man was dragged under the fence, and taken quite a ways inside the chimp compound. It was questioned why the fence was not working, it was supposed to be electrified, but was not. Why has the story changed without explanation?

    July 5, 2012 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
  5. Texas Crazy Man

    Hey, the genius made his move, screwed up and the Chimps bent him over the desk and gave him the "Rhino" and he went AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

    July 5, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bruce Heilbrunn

    Apparently they pay for medical care for the chimp, but the human is on his own with respect to the millions of dollars in medical expenses he will have to undergo. That's right they are passing the hat for Oberle's medical expenses but refusing to take responsibility. If Jane Goodall or Cussons or Cronje was attacked their medical expenses are covered. Oberle was giving a talk to the paid tourists when he was attacked.

    July 6, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
  7. cesar fernandez

    Is there a place where one can send a contribution to help with this boys medical expenses ?

    July 8, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ScottCA

    If he crossed a barrier placed for his protection, then he was extremely foolish.

    Ignorancelike this is very common amoungst tourists.

    July 10, 2012 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Some guy

      I feel sorry for the chimp that was shot.

      July 12, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
  9. zulux

    Now Geico offers chimp insurance where a 15-minute call can save you 15 percent or more ...

    Really, this is like the fourth attacks on humans by chimps. Either Al-quida has chimps for agents or the chimps just don't dig humans. It many be a jealousy factor b/c of our thumb

    July 27, 2012 at 1:38 am | Report abuse |
  10. MT1962

    Unless the animals are highly endangered, like the Panda, any animal that attacks a human being like this should be killed, period. This should apply to dogs, chimps, horses, snakes, what have you. What's the point of being the dominant species if we can't even protect our own? The world will be better off with two less homicidal chimps. With a little luck the chimpanzee species will evolve over the centuries to fear us enough to refrain from attacking us.

    July 27, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
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