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. Myto Senseworth

    Does the "stand your ground" law apply to the chimps? The guy was not suposed to be in his neighborhood.

    July 3, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cheeta

      It's really a shame when some of my relatives have to ruin it for all good chimps! UN-GOWA yourself Tarzan! 😉

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

      "There are no plans right now to euthanize the chimps involved in the attack" answers to stand your ground question.

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

    So they dragged the lower half of his body under the fence and tore his legs apart, probably ate his feet, and ripped off his genitals if they could reach them. Lovely.

    July 3, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • hez316

      The experts always tell us to treat wild animals accordingly. Sadly, another reminder. Hope the young man recovers

      July 3, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  3. 123elle

    Did I really read this?

    "Cussons shot two rounds in the air to see if that might get them to retreat..

    While the poor young man was getting chewed up for 15 minutes? Cussons sure shot that chimp pretty quick when it was going after HIM, though. That staff is guilty of criminal negligence, in my opinion, especially Cussons. They all cravenly ran away and tried ineffectually to plan for "darting the chimps" while Oberle was under attack. They were not prepared for an emergency in the least, and even with the means to stop the attack, did not use it.

    For people here who are trying to blame the victim, you are dishonest with yourselves and do not value human life. This young man was not hurting the chimps or abusing anybody.

    Now this irreplaceable young man is fighting for his life. And still no word from Gooddall, She needs to speak up and discuss how safety can be implemented because she was instrumental in luring idealistic young people closer to these wild animals. These people have such mushy morals and irrational stars in their eyes over apes that they are unable to function effectively to defend a helpless human.

    July 3, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Saboth

      Perhaps he should have respected their space. Contrary to you and your type, humans do not have 100% rights to this planet. The boy invaded their space and paid the price.

      July 3, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hugh Jass

      "Now this irreplaceable young man is fighting for his life. " Oh, he's replaceable enough. Why are you sad? He was a tree-hugging, ape-loving liberal. Your whole post just crackles with hatred of people who don't just stay home and watch tv. We get it, you hate us, and you hate chimps and probably dogs and children as well. Same to you with bells on.

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

      Elle – could not agree with you more!!! Apparently it was quite evident this young man was being ripped apart, and yet they fired "warning shots"???!!! Those chimps should have been shot on sight. I am a huge animal advocate and also watched Chimp Eden ALL the time, but the management and lack of a plan are a huge part of the blame. This dedicated young man made one mistake, for all the right reasons – to remove a rock so it wasn't used as a projectile – and was horribly mauled in the process. The thoughts that must have been running thru his head as this was going on. Shame on Eugene and the other rangers for not shooting those chimps dead.

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

      Environmentalists feign themselves heroes and "friends of the earth and soulmates of creatures of mother earth". Really they are in the way of progress of the planet. The lack wisdom and perception. They cost human lives in their ignorance. At least this time they risked their own life instead of the rest of America or others lives.

      July 3, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Black

      Don't blame the victim? You kidding me? He worked there, knew the risks and danger of the wild chimps, yet still he climbed over a safety fence to get close to the primary fence near the chimps. He was stupid and negligent in his actions. You want ignore the safety features put in place then take ownership of the consequnces.
      Jeez, what an Ass Clown

      July 3, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      I think you're alleviating Oberle from blame when you shouldn't be. Or perhaps you don't realize that chimps can literally tear monkeys limb from limb with their bare hands.

      The story is obviously abbreviated. I doubt Cussons and others stood there gasping for 15 minutes. Even if they did stand in shock for a full 14.5 minutes, Oberle, having been trained, still crossed a marked barrier.

      Where I come from, fences mean "stay out". I don't know what you, Oberle, and that guy that died under Top Gun at Great America *think* they mean. But since you're the only one of those 3 left alive, I sincerely hope you take this to heart: really, truly, fences mean "keep your du -mb f-k body on your own side."

      I'm not lying. They mean stay out.

      July 3, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Al

    Guess he should have stayed in the U.S. Good luck, that's what happens when one goes out to try and save the world and not try to take care of the country that he was born under. Who's next to go out of the border and take a chance with their life.

    July 3, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. K

      So if someone volunteers overseas it serves him right if he's killed. Wonderful sentiment? Is this WWJD?

      July 3, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Adam

    Shoot the 2 chimps responsible for the attack and throw their corpses in with the rest as a warning to the rest of teh chimps.

    July 3, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hikerstud

      I agree.
      Same thing and method for politicians, charlatans, federal workers cheating the public, environmentalists closing nuclear plants, occupy slugs, wallstreet theives, nazis, etc. Who did i miss?

      July 3, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hugh Jass

      "Who did i miss?" Adam.

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

      "throw their corpses in with the rest as a warning " Because that would totally work, since chimps understand symbolism? You are thinking of those calendars where they sit at desks and make phone calls, right?

      July 3, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Highland

    Are some people just crazy? Stay away from wild animals. They are not good or bad. They are just doing what their genetics cause them to do.

    July 3, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • minerran


      Read the story again. The guy who was hurt was a scientist working there. When you say "leave the animals alone", what should we do? Just kill them? This was a wildlife sanctuary for former research animals, etc. It is incredible how ignorant some of the comments here are. People skim the story or read just a bit, then think they know it all.

      July 3, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bubba

      @People skim the story or read just a bit, then think they know it all'

      Several commenters are sure that he was a tourist who jumped a fence and was attacked. READING IS HARD!

      July 3, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Greg

    Maybe we need to finally realize, when interacting with certain wild animals, that we should wear some kind of armor (maybe euphemistically call it an "encounter suit").

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


      Maybe we need to outlaw the use of primates in medical experimentation or as pets. Doing so would eliminate most of these incidents – this particular place where the attack occurred, would not exist what I wrote, were illegal.

      July 3, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Hugh Jass

    You know, this gives me an idea for what to do with Jerry Sandusky. New reality show: ARE YOU FASTER THAN FOUR CHIMPS? "It's a quarter-mile to the exit, and they're hungry. Can you make it?"

    July 3, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  9. CNNidegaz

    As we reflect on our peaceful species roots ...

    July 3, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  10. earlbowden

    "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...."

    Sounds like he failed the training class. When you are dealing with animals that can kill you, training and understanding means everything – it means your life.

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

      Yeah, a dumb move on his part. People do dumb things all the time that get them into serious trouble. Why do they not heed rules, and think they are above them?

      July 3, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. sybaris

    Caeser studied the tourists reaction as his warriors tore at the students limbs.

    July 3, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Cornelius

    This guy clearly didn't know much about the animals. I don't work with chimps, and I know how dangerous they are. He should have known better. Lesson learned the hard way.

    July 3, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Cornelius

    15 minutes did not include the time that Cussons was there. For people who think that a man with a gun was standing there and let it happen for 15 minutes, just read the article more carefully.

    July 3, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Love the Chimps

    The 'No-go area' is in place for a reason. Stupity = problems. No sympathy here. Maybe it would be safe to go play on the freeway??

    July 3, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Bob

    First of all, I hope that this man survives. Second, it is always strange to hear these reports about people being mauled or killed by wild animals. Whether in capitivity or the open, people take too many chances around these beasts. Why do people test fate like this?

    July 3, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
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