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. theobc

    or, wherever you live.

    July 3, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. PhilG

    He crossed through two -no-go- barriers.

    This guy will never be the same for the rest of his life and he only has himself to blame.

    For those who do not know-a primary attack method of chimps and larger primates is to bite the face and neck of their preceived threat.

    They likely tore his face apart as well as any other part of his body they could bite.

    Simply stupid behavior he will live with for the rest of his life-if he survives the massive infections that may follow.

    Never – EVER – take your safety around wild animals for granted-you may DIE.

    July 3, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Slappy_McGiggles

    While I hope for his full recovery, this is what happens with self-rightious, tree huggers and their misguided attempts at becoming one with nature. They never seem to take into account that nature may not want to be at one with them!

    July 3, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • photogrrl

      he was apparenltly attempting to remove a rock that could have been thrown and hit a HUMAN BEING. Not sure how that makes him a "self righteous tree hugger" (nice spelling of "self righteous, by the way).
      Lapse in judgement, obviously, but all the people spouting "lesson learned" and making jokes about this person's horrible injuries? Sad day for the human race when we find this kind of thing "funny" or "deserved." People are really sick.

      July 3, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Don

    I used to work for a former carney (became a CPA). He used to tell the BEST stories. One thing he said that I always remembered. You can always tell a "chimp" guy. He'd be the one missing fingers. He also said he'd NEVER wanted to work with chimps. It was safer to work with elephants.

    July 3, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  5. pat nyamu

    it only sad that it happened while he was doing what is right but at the wrong timing. wish you fast recouvery

    July 3, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Timmy

    Let me get this straight- the attack lasted 15 minutes before they shot one of the chimps? Guess they wanted to be really careful to not hurt one of the chimps that were ripping Andrew's face off.

    July 3, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sazie

      He probably couldn't shoot the animal while it was attacking the boy, in case he hit the boy. It said that the animal came at him, indicating that it had moved away from the victim, at which point he had a clear shot. It's very sad that this happened, but horrible things do happen. He cared enough about these animals to take what he had to know was a risk, just as sometimes people are killed by the unfortunate people they try to help. I feel for him and his family and friends.

      July 3, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  7. snowdogg

    A tragedy, but one which could have been avoided. Hopefully, the young man will recover from his wounds without further trauma.

    July 3, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ADiff

    Not exactly Disney, eh? Where's that lovey-dovey peaceful nature now?

    July 3, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  9. demonte white

    It so said that those chimps attack that student.I hope the student survive and the chimp are put to sleep.

    July 3, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • meateater

      perhaps we should put to sleep all of the people who don't use common sense in dangerous situations instead? this dip stick knowingly put himself and others in danger. the chimps are being held there, i'm sure it's not by their choice. why should a wild animal that knows no better be punished by losing its life because a stupid human being broke the rules?

      July 3, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • pastapharian

      why should the chimps be put to sleep? they didn't do anything wrong.

      July 3, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • HPNIII

      Dumb, chips can't read, humans can, the sign said "Stay Out"

      July 3, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  10. kuuipo

    This guy should have just stayed away, I mean that rock would have done less harm then what he went through. And yes, its his fault, the chimps should not be put down for doing what is natural to them, they don`t know better & u shouldn`t assume they do! They have different rules than humans get it? Got it? Good!!!

    July 3, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  11. zzzzzz

    If these chimps were abused by human, they'll forever feel threatened by human. Wild animals are simply unpredictable.
    I hope the student will recover, and new safely measures will be installed.
    I hope the chimp will not be euthanized.

    July 3, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alex

      I would say that it was completely predictable. That is why it was a no go area.

      July 3, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Didn't a domestic chimp mauled a female trainer at a santuary in Connecticut a few years ago and disfigured her face? Perhaps this well educated primatologist was unaware of the tragic story of this woman! I remember a story a few years ago of a kid falling into the Bronx zoo and losing consciousness but was rescued by a bystander who was fortunately not attacked by several chimps in the confinement as he rescued the kid! Then I was surprised when it was reported that this man took an awful risk as it was reported then that chimps are three times stronger than an adult human male. But in this current report it was reported that chimps are ten times stronger than an adult human male! Hope that is a lesson for all!

    July 3, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Dave

    Many people on this board are blaming the victim. People make mistakes and have lapses in judgment, but that doesn't mean they deserve horrific outcomes. For example, I would venture a guess that many people posting here often disobey traffic laws, despite the fact that statistics clearly show that speed kills.

    This student was not trying to hurt anyone. In fact, he was trying to help. Granted he probably should not have gone past the first barrier. But, it is not as if he went directly into the cage and taunted the chimps.

    July 3, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Texas Crazy Man

      Dave, get a grip and your missing the point. He knew better and is going for his MASTERS Degree. I would expect some one with that type of education be able to follow simple instruction like do not pass this is a No/Go Area. He allowed his macho behavior to make a poor decision to violate this important rule and therefore almost got killed. Some people learn by means of education and some by experience, too bad so sad I'll bet next time he will heed those words of wisdom. Its always no ones fault because we don't make anyone accountable for their FUs. Well guess what the apes didn't get the memo and put their furry foot in his dumb rectum.

      July 3, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phalanx

      Would you walk between a calf and its mother? Would you walk through a pride of lions? Past a urination marker of an Alpha Wolf? They teach "NO GO" area's because you DONT go there... "we" are just as much of animals as they are, we have more a little more social structure to our lives, but when an animal sets its territory, stay out of it or suffer the consequences... doesn't matter if its a group of chimps, or bobby joe shooting you for trespassing.

      July 3, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • HPNIII

      Dumb, there are probably signs all over that place, disobey some, the outcome is minor, disobey others , the out come can be fatal, just like traffic signs speed limit 55 and you go 60 the result is not likely to be death, but ignore a sign like Dead End and see what happens.

      July 3, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  14. bradley

    Stop and frisk the chimps

    July 3, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  15. wasserball

    Read the story instead. The video has no additional information except for two boring journalists chatting with each other without first hand knowledge of the situation. How boring. To Andrew, we are rooting for your full recovery, and thanks for sharing your facebook page to us.

    July 3, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
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