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. Cornelius

    I'd take primates over humans any day.

    "Beware the beast man, for he is the devil's pawn. Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport, or lust or greed. Yes, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him. Drive him back into his jungle lair: For he is the harbinger of death."

    July 3, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Texas Crazy Man

      Corny, you need help you wouldn't happen to be a Scientologist would you????

      July 3, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ann

      Corneleous, many agree with you.

      July 3, 2012 at 11:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Les Too


      Humans are primates. And chimpanzees and humans share a single common ancestor. Along with orangutans and gorillas, we are all classified as Hominids. The four of us called the great apes. And the four of us have never been successfully domesticated .

      July 4, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
  2. calygurl71

    I guess ignorance is bliss.

    July 3, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Fran

    "Get your stinking hands off me, you damn dirty ape!!!"

    July 3, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Kim

    I'll bet he knows what RESTRICTED AREA means now doesn't he?

    July 3, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason Bourne

      Nah... all he knows is he only has a stump on the left, and half a leg on the right.

      July 3, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. calvin

    Hope he's OK, but seriously... he violated a basic safety rule. He should NEVER have gone in the NO-GO. He supposedly went in to remove a rock that could have been thrown around. Hell, just leave it there. When I was working with Air Force fighters and the engines were idling, there was a NO-GO zone. What this guy did would be like going in front of an idling jet engine to remove a stone that could be ingested into the engine. Well, you do that, the engine may suck you in. LEAVE the stone alone, let the engine suck it up and fix it after it breaks. Not worth human injury. Same principle.

    July 3, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Fran

    "After having screamed out in pain and claiming to be from Earth circa 1968, sanctuary officials proceeded to remove Mr. Oberle's vocal chords in a secretive operation and placed in captivity with "Bright Eyes".............

    July 3, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hombre

      Bravo! I am rolling with laughter!!.. well done!!!

      July 3, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Love Rhino

    Careful with that axe Eugene

    July 3, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Comte_De_Lautreamont

      There's no like button so I have to write out this reply to express my approval of your Pink Floyd reference.

      July 3, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ann

    I am sorry he is hurt but it is his own fault.

    July 3, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ELH

    There is a reason they are called wild animals.

    July 3, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  10. jaintn

    Why on earth would they consider euthanizing the chimps? He went into an area he wasn't supposed to enter. It's horrible what happened to him, but it could have been avoided if he had followed protocol. The chimpanzees did nothing wrong.

    That being said........ why on earth do the bigots come onto a comment board about a tragedy like this to spew their rampant ignorance and bigotry? I dare any one of you sub-humans to state your real name and where you live. You won't and you know why? Because in addition to being loathesome creatures who DO NOT fit into decent society, you're filthy cowards, that's why.

    July 3, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Pdiddy

    Some people think they have a special connection with animals, only problem is the animals DO NOT think this way.

    July 3, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  12. J.C.

    So THAT'S why they call it a "no go" area.

    July 3, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  13. peace

    Warings are not to be ignored. no matter wat wild animals are never domesticated. I wish the dud recovers

    July 3, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Captain Obvious

    Someone had a gun but waited 15 minutes to shoot it in the air? Who's the more intelligent species here?

    July 3, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Duh

    It is human nature to become complacent: one of the main reasons we have accidents. We'd like to think we wouldn't but we've all dodged a light, reached somewhere we shouldn't, plugged in something with wet hands: things we tell our kids never to do. A real tragedy for everyone, human and animal, that this occured.

    July 3, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13