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.

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soundoff (295 Responses)
  1. bobcat (in a hat)©

    Well, it just goes to show you, chimpanzees are just about as sav age as man. I hope that young man recovers from this.

    July 3, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
    • bam

      only man declares who is sav age. this is their survival. u threa ten them by inva ding their territory they will stop u and maim u so u can not defend yourself. that is their law accept it or be judged.

      July 3, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Anomic Office Drone

      They're actually decidedly worse. Most humans will either beat your or kill you. Chimpanzees will maim you, starting with your face and genitals before moving on to your fingers and toes.

      July 3, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  2. GaryGuillermo

    Now I understand what he was doing.

    July 3, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  3. tim

    Sucks for the guy, but seriously that's why you don't cross a line into a cage of wild animals...natural selection in action.

    July 3, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  4. Gina

    They're caged for a reason! I'm sorry the kid got hurt but what the hell was he doing crossing the barrier into the no-go area? He is not a professional. Sadly this bad judgement choice will live with him forever. I hope he recovers.

    July 3, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  5. bam

    Apes are not TAME they are not Domesticated they live by the laws of Nature. U threaten them they will rip your face off, bite your thumbs off, rip your bum and genitals off... this is what they do.
    u can bring in as many christian priests as u want to declare them heretics they will NEVER accept the bible like the incas and mayans.....

    July 3, 2012 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  6. T-Bone

    Yeah what was he thinking? They should have called out the Great Semoise from the Planet of the Apes movie they would have settled down then.

    July 3, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  7. Ouch

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

    Umm, maybe not.

    July 3, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  8. Boo

    If you had a brain, you'd be dangerous.

    July 3, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Forrest

    Keep me locked in a cage for the amusement of others and you'd better stay out of my enclosure, too.

    July 3, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Joe B

    Their not talking about the nature of his wounds because the chimps pobably bit off his genitals.

    I'm not trying to be be messed up or cruel, either. Male Chimps are known to bit the genitals off of their rivals in an attack.

    July 3, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Joe B

    Troll

    July 3, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Nick

    Its a shame but these chimps more than likely have been so traumatized from their previous existances that they are better off being Euthanized. And guess who we can thank for their traumatization? Yep Humans.......Hope this dude recovers. I wonder how badly he was mauled. Remember that woman who got her face torn off by the chimp up in Vermont or somewhere like that? I'm sure she'd have some choice words for the guy.....

    July 3, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  13. garg

    Well, you've learned how to type... might as well get to vote too now.

    July 3, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Feed Your Head

    Chimps – 1
    Humans – 0

    July 3, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Forrest

      More like:
      Chimps – 1
      Humans – Millions and counting.

      July 3, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Alex

    When handling or approaching adult chimps one should always assume they want to maul you and be prepared to defend yourself. I wouldn't enter an enclosure without a weapon in hand. The crazy little monsters always go for the eyes, fingers and genitals when they attack. If they were on this poor guy for 15 minutes, then I'm afraid he may be missing all of those parts sadly. I wish him well.

    July 3, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
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