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. larry5

    Chimps are tough guys. There was a video of a big baboon that jumped into a small group of five or six chimps, showed his big teeth and started threatening the smaller chimps. What did the chimps do? They ripped off the baboon's arms and legs and started eating him. They made a lot of noise and danced around throwing off the parts of the baboon they did not eat. It looked like they really enjoyed their meal and had a great time.

    July 3, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  2. d

    that funky monkey

    July 3, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  3. JoSteed

    It is laughable because he was told DO NOT GO INTO THE NO-GO AREA, DUH!!!

    July 3, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. MotoJB

    Torn apart by chimps...what a way to (almost) go. Dang. Hope he heals up. Condolences to the family.

    July 3, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Iron Mike

    I guess tey need another sign beneath the No-go sign that reads, "and we REALLY mean it."

    July 3, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. MashaSobaka

    You don't know much about chimps, do you?

    July 3, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mike

    I heard on the radio they bit his toes off and a lot more!

    July 3, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  8. someGuy

    don't mess with chimps. Just don't.

    July 3, 2012 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Argle Bargle

    You can't monkey around with chimps!

    July 3, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Paul Michael

    A (CHUMP) n a chimp.what the iF.PNM?

    July 3, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Whome

    Boy was that report annoying at best, what language was that woman speaking and did she have a speech impediment?

    July 3, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Hope


    Maybe they were scared, poor little chimps. Learn sign language... improve your spelling or get stung by Bee. LOL! I've seen meaner monkeys.

    July 3, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Xsjoy

    Why did it take 15 minutes to fire the weapon which ended the attack?

    July 3, 2012 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
  14. DoubleEM

    Why the didn't shoot earlier? Another Green Peace crap?!

    July 3, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • dkilla3101@yahoo.com

      Why would you shoot the chimps for this americans ignorance. Even with all this guys extensive education, he still entered the no-go area. His attacked was well deserved. Thank you to the investigator for using his common sense and issuing no punishment to those beautiful animals.

      July 4, 2012 at 8:29 am | Report abuse |
  15. Aloyisus

    Shock the monkey, shock the monkey. I curse Jane Goodall and that feel good crap about chimps. Leave em alone cuz there's nothing to learn from them except the way they behave. BIG DEAL. Sad thing is the kid will probably blame himself and make excuses for the attack. Like Kramer on Seinfeld, Oh, only the poor monkey's important. Everything has to be done for the monkey!"

    July 3, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tim

      Anti monkey I guess.

      July 3, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ann

      No go means...;'NO GO'

      July 3, 2012 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • B

      He SH)OULD blame himself. He ignored the rules and suffered the consequences. The world does not have an obligation to protect the stupid from themselves.

      July 4, 2012 at 2:15 am | Report abuse |
    • c smythe

      Wow, what a fine education you received from the television! Perhaps in your wisdom you can come up with a cheaper source of energy or a cure for cancer . . .

      July 4, 2012 at 3:59 am | Report abuse |
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