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. Christopher Wood

    He must be just barely getting by in school trying something a stupid as going into a "no go" area. The kid was just asking for it and he got it. No sympathy here.

    July 3, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Carol J.

    HLN spokesperson commenting as to what can be done to stop this type of attack...simple..stay in the tourist area..stop feeling you're above and beyond the rules..where's the common sense!

    July 3, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Bob

    They ripped some of his toes off, some fingers and a testicle. Are these animals that powerful to actually rip body parts off?

    July 3, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • boarddog

      Five times stronger than an average male...so yes.

      July 3, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • mshroomtip


      July 3, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • John Keefer

      There was an attack here in Los Angeles some years ago. A couple had a chimp that they had to put into a sanctuary with some other chimps because of a zoning problem. They came to see him on his birthday and brought a cake. The other chimps got jealous, broke out of their cages and attacked the couple. The man tried to protect his wife and got the worst of it. The keeper had to shoot both of the attacking chimps.

      I won't go into what they did to him, but you can probably Google it if you want to know.

      July 3, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • firetreekauai

      Yes, they are that powerful. They are something like five times stronger than a human, even though their size is somewhat smaller (adult chimps, especially males, are bigger than you probably think). They are not vegetarian, either...they're omnivores.

      July 3, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  4. banasy©

    I wish him a quick recovery.

    July 3, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  5. t3chsupport


    July 3, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  6. boarddog

    "chimpanzees tore apart his body"
    I shudder to think what they tore off. Poor guy. Safety precautions are usually in place for a reason...

    July 3, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  7. thecentrist11

    It's the same thing with cats and dogs. When push comes to shove, animals are animals.

    July 3, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gregg

      What kind of idiotic statement is this? Cats and dogs are domesticated pets. Chimps are most definitely NOT. When was the last time you heard of a pet house-cat dragging somebody under a fence and tearing them apart? Get a clue, Einstein.

      July 3, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. anna

    I have no sympathy for people like this, when will they realize that animals in africa are wild, they are not pets.

    But it looks like he thought he knew best, hope he learned a lesson.

    July 3, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Diana R

      Anna: The young man made a foolish mistake, and brought on his own injuries. But to say you have no sympathy for him, well, that's harsh. –Diana

      July 3, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • red

      I can't even believe you. you need serious help if you're that far out of touch with other people.

      July 3, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • theobc

      @anna – wow! hope that made you feel better. next time you make a foolish mistake, i hope people have as much compassion for you as you had for this young man. this attack went on for 15 minutes, so this young man is severely injured. it was a momentary lapse in judgment that this man will have to deal with for the rest of his life (if he is lucky enough to have a life after this), otherwise, it is something his family and friends will have to deal with and come to terms with. sorry, all that escaped you.

      July 3, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • vahellbilly


      I agree with you 100%... If you take a rsik and get injured or killed, well... You kinda made your own bed and have to lie in it. I feel sorry for his friends and family as they are now affected by this stupid and arrogant individual's foolish venture.

      July 3, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stupac

      lol anna did you even read the article these are rescued animals. They are not keeping them as pets they are saving their lives since they can't go back to the wild.

      July 3, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  9. MyTake

    It's called "No go" for a reason ...

    July 3, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  10. David

    Those chimps will rip your face off if you are stupid enough to get close.

    July 3, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Adevilson Silva

    It is time for the human race to get extinct. Period.

    July 3, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • r0n77

      you first.

      July 3, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Strat Ford

      If that's how you really feel, then set the example and start with yourself.

      July 3, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • fortunate

      @Adevilson Silva – that includes you, unless you are really 'a devil's son' and so only half-human.

      July 3, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gregg

      Shall we start with you?

      July 3, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. SPENT

    Maybe when he is well he can go to the border of Iran..Another child falls through the crack of "logic."

    July 3, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. sancho

    It took that guy 15 minutes to shoot the chimp?!?!? What was he thinking?

    July 3, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  14. yvodenhop

    "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"

    Why didn't Cussons' shoot the chimp when it was attacking the kid? He only shot the chimp when HE was personally threatened. Why didn't he shoot in the air when the chimp charged at him? I guess being personally attacked warranted the chimp being shot, but not if the chimp was attacking someone else.

    July 3, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • theobc

      i wondered why he shot in the air and not the chimp too – until, he was been threatened. maybe if he had the kid may not have been so severly injured.

      July 3, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • asdf

      uh maybe because he didn't want to accidentally kill a human right next to his target? What an idiotic post.

      July 3, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • r0n77

      I was wondering the same thing. Only thing I can figure is that Cussons was not at the site when the attack began, but got there 15 minutes later, maybe after a distress call went out. BTW, CNN, does Cussons have a first name or occupation?

      July 3, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Duh

      And risk shooting the victim because the chimp must be next to him?

      July 3, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jake

    Take the worst violence that humans exhibit towards each other, remove any rational inhibitions, and you see what chimps are capable of. Chimps are wonderful creatures but they are deadly violent when they want to be. I was at the zoo with my wife and a huge male swung at me screaming and bearing its teeth, thank God he smacked up against the thick glass between us or else I would most likely be dead and who knows what he would have done to my wife. We were just standing there observing too, not doing anything to provoke them. Not an animal to be trifled with.

    July 3, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
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