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. aj

    Live and learn

    July 3, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Hope


    I'd never fall for the infamous monkey baby-sitting trick.

    I think you missed an important point in the story... these were abused and neglected monkeys captured from test labs. Not your average 'Joe' monkeys. Obviously, that plus being locked up like prisoners was enough to make them violent... ohhh, snap!

    July 4, 2012 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
  3. josh

    I don't get it – the guy broke the code by stepping into the no go zone – so why should the chimps be euthanized? If anything, the guy should be euthanized.

    July 4, 2012 at 12:30 am | Report abuse |

    So, the managing director, Cussons, will shoot warning shots at chimps maiming a student for 15 minutes BUT when those same chimps charge at him then he shoots right then and there, not waiting 15 minutes, and when he shoots it is not warnining shots, but shots that directly hit the chimp to save himself not the injured student. they said the student was going to remove a rock that he thought the abused chimps might use as a weapon and I think when they saw him going toward the rock, that they thought he might be going to use the rock as a weapon. That director should that shot the chimps the moment he arrived as if he was watching a murder attempt take place to save a life of a student instead of hesitating to protect his precious chimps.

    July 4, 2012 at 2:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe Smith

      i would rather have the chimps... we have way too may humans

      July 4, 2012 at 8:03 am | Report abuse |
    • FreddyG

      Here,here. Too many people born everyday and primates are dissapearing b4 us, we should find n punish the people responsible for their impending extinction.

      July 4, 2012 at 8:38 am | Report abuse |
  5. fritz

    Darwin. I bow to your greatness.

    July 4, 2012 at 2:56 am | Report abuse |
  6. don

    They need a fence to keep people out of the animal area zones. I have an idea. Make a low voltage fence for the people watching. If they go close, it will zap them enough to keep them away.
    This dude, has no respect for animals, if he really did, he would give them space. They're not your playing things. Just watch from a distant and leave the animals be.

    July 4, 2012 at 4:29 am | Report abuse |
  7. 22X Richer

    I would have killed both chimps without the warning shots.

    July 4, 2012 at 6:23 am | Report abuse |
    • FreddyG

      Only if we could put you in a chimp suit and shoot you first as a warning shot. Idiot.

      July 4, 2012 at 8:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Jillian

      @ 22 x Richer – sounds like 22 x Dumber as well.

      July 4, 2012 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Susan

      Yes, you would think that would be common sense. I can't understand people who put animals above people, no matter what animals. Ever.

      July 4, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
  8. 2tired2care

    Sad what one mistake can result in.

    July 4, 2012 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Katgarden

      Was anyone else as annoyed as I was with that woman's voice!?

      July 7, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Pierre - Westmount - Canada

    A no-go area means a no-go area!
    Perhaps he was over-confident with himself but this view of oneself does not always bring positive results.
    Best of luck to Andrew and a quick recovery.

    July 4, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  10. Reasoned Thought

    When a human attacks another human, a shooter can kill the attacker. But when animals are killing humans the shooter fires into the air?

    What the hell was that zookeeper thinking? Shoot the threat and save the human for crying out loud!

    July 4, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • DrEThiak

      It's usually not a wise move to shoot at an attacking animal entangled with a person. It is too easy to miss and shoot the person you are trying to rescue. Perhaps something like bear spray would be effective against chimps. I have a Ruger .44 mag, but for this reason I would only carry bear spray in grizzly country if I had to choose.

      July 4, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      I completely agree people are more protective of animals in many cases than other people. The guy should have shot the chimp first and the first guy should have never gone into the no-go area. My bet is he won't be making that mistake twice.

      July 4, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Les Too

      Humans are animals. Which animal were you talking about? The one that was defending its territory from an invader or the one that was invading the territory?

      July 4, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Tracy L. Owensmith

    A couple of years ago in Zimbabwe, an Australian (tourist) woman had her had chewed off by a lion after she put her had in the fenced lion sanctuary. Around the lions enclosure are signs that clearly says "Do not feed the lions or put your hands in the lion cages". Instructions are there for a reason and must be followed or the worst/unfortunate will happen. I sincerely hope the young man recovers and hopefully something like this will never happen again.

    July 4, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  12. NewMath

    Darwin just did a major face-palm.

    July 4, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Geoffrey Hamilton

    Medical advances are now outpacing the ability of Darwin's Law to eliminate the less than intelligent from our gene pool, Idiocracy will be a reality within 50 years... "its got electolytes"!!!

    July 4, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Keyboard Cat

    The reason they don't mention the injuries is due to the nature of chimpanzee attacks. They perceive males as a particular threat. Therefore they typically tear the testicles off of the intruder and shred the remaining genitalia. They also maul the face, hands, and feet. An interesting FYI.

    July 4, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  15. lewtwo

    What is the condition of the chimp that was shot for protecting its territory.

    July 4, 2012 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Bob

      Animal loving moron. People first. thats why we are on the top of the food chain

      July 5, 2012 at 7:50 am | Report abuse |
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