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. Lady Vee

    What happened to this man was his own fault. There are barriers around wild animals for a reason. He chose not to respect them and now he's in a hospital with missing limbs. "Is he smarter than a 5th grader?"

    July 3, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Buck

      Lady Vee, we don't know all of the details as to what exactly happened. Regardless, your comment is simply cold hearted.

      July 3, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marty

      If I spot a child playing near a knife, and in crossing the street to try and remove the knife I walk into the path of a truck, do I deserve to be injured? This student was attempting to remove a stone close to one of the chimps that could have been thrown around. While this may have been ill-advised, it certainly does warrant such a spiteful comment. I hope that this young man recovers quickly and completely.

      July 3, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Researches say Chimps have intelligence very similar to humans but their strength is 70 times greater, we have some humans who are all muscle but no brains. This young man faced an unfortunate accident and we pray he will heal and be able to continue what he loved most, working with Chimps.

    July 3, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  3. TheMunkinutz

    Mark- The young man was not a tourist; correct. He was also not a "trained" primatologist; he was a student, probably on a summer internship (like most universities offer). The key item in question is, "Why did he disregard the safety precautions over a simple rock?" and "Why didn't he get a trained animal expert or full-time staff to make that call?" Safety precautions are written in blood, and this just reproves them.

    July 3, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Shuffler

    Your lack of ability to read or comprehend what you read is shameful. The story explains what he was doing. He did not seem to be some wild child. If your having issues yourself or with one of your kids it does not mean every is so inclined. Maybe you should pull your head out and keep your feet away from your mouth awhile.

    July 3, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ForGoodOfAll

    He's lucky to be alive! I hope that he and others learned from this painful and nearly deadly experience. Fences in zoos and animal sactuaries are there for a good reason. Respect the rules and do not ever intrude on a wild and potentially dangerous animal's turf.

    July 3, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  6. NorCalMojo

    They should have destroyed the animals. Even if he was in the wrong place, it should be dealt with. Chimps are intelligent animals and will learn from the experience. They'll be watching and waiting for another chance to do it again.

    July 3, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Oscar Pitchfork

    ATTACK! ...then everythings okay.ATTACK! ...then everythings okay.ATTACK! ...then everythings okay.ATTACK! ...then everythings okay.....does anyone else see "Mars Attacks!" here?

    July 3, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  8. arose4yu

    after what happened to Charla Nash (lady whose face was ripped off)..why would anyone want to go near a chimpanzee??? But I do hope that the guy recovers..sometimes we just don't think...it happens to everyone.

    July 3, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Akira

    This is all human error, the chimps are not at fault here.

    July 3, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Pat

    The chimps most likely tore off his man parts which is why they don't want to comment on the injuries chimps have done this in nearly every attack on humans recorded. Face ripping/tearing and removal of the reproductive organs...lucky him they only got his bottom half stupid humans.

    July 3, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Suszanne

    and the comment from Bob rogers is still here because???

    July 3, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Just Saying

    From an ABC news article:
    Oberle, who is studying anthropology at the University of Texas at San Antonio, suffered huge cuts to his head and face. The mauling left his skull and facial bones exposed.

    The vicious attack left Oberle with injures over his entire body. His right upper arm is broken, while his lower right arm muscle and ligaments are torn and exposed to the bone. Oberle's left arm was mauled and he lost fingers on both hands.

    One testicle was ripped off and he suffered deep lacerations to both legs and lost several toes.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ricksta

    The chimps didn't want kindness to be taken for weakness.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  14. AlaDave

    I would have given the attacking chimpanzee ONE warning shot into the ground at T+5 seconds after the attack,
    and two to center of mass/one to head at T+8 seconds if that didn't work.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  15. nate

    you'd think they could come up with a reporter that DIDN'T have a lisp. that's about like hiring a waitress with no arms.

    July 3, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Whome

      IT's called quotas, brought to you by the EEOC.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
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