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. obsthetimes

    Don't quite understand why the chimps were able to attack this guy for a full 15 minutes before action was taken??
    They should have fired in the air or at the chimps immediately.

    July 3, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Karrie

    I'm sorry for what happened to the young man, but as I tell my daughter when she gets down in the dog's face, it's still an animal. You just don't know what it can do....and that's a domesticated animal. What a tragedy that this guy had to learn that lesson the hard way. I hope he makes it.

    July 3, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Tigers

    While I am sympathetic to the young man who is injured and hope for a good recovery, that young man violated the most basic of rules when working around chimpanzees and other potentially dangerous wild and domestic animals. Perimeter fences are there for a reason and he chose to ignore the rules. Even if there was a rock that needed to be removed (I've worked with chimps and they will throw things), attempting to remove the rock while leading a group of visitors and without proper superivison from the experienced handlers, was asking for trouble. I've worked with these animals and I've worked with interns and students/voluteers. This is not unusual behavior unfortunately. The chimps were simply protecting their territory and they should bear none of the blame.

    July 3, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Just Saying

      Excellent post Tigers, and I agree 100% with you.

      An unfortunate mistake by the young man that, hopefully, does not lead to the loss of his life.

      July 3, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Rascal Rabble

    sooo, the moral of this story:

    it's not good to monkey around chimpanzees...

    July 3, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. viaquest

    Just goes to show you shouldn't Monkey around with wild animals!!!

    July 3, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Baygood

    Im so sad for this young man. Hoping for a full recovery.

    July 3, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Spendlove

    Love the comments here... so many experts but then again it is 'Merika.

    July 3, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bill

    Sorry, but if anybody should have known chimps are as unpredictable as any wild animal, as dangerous as any wild animal with fangs can be, Oberle should have known, *and respected* those facts.

    Chimps more than make up for lack of fangs or claws with freakish strength: bench 500 lbs, sprint 25-30 mph on the ground, leg press 2x as much as a human.

    And these guys were in jail. All they do is work out.

    July 3, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Name*lol

    This boy never watched KingKong or what?

    July 3, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. JohnTX

    Article makes a good point. It's a nice prison but still a prison. Chimps are pretty close to humans in the biology department. What do our inmates do when you give them the opportunity? Think about it.

    July 3, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Rex Riley

    Wow, angry much? Deep breaths, deep breaths, relaaaaaax.

    July 3, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. stephanurus

    They probably went for his balls. That's why all the secrecy about the in juries.

    July 3, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
  13. pazke

    We all make poor decisions sometimes. I'm sure that this young man realizes his mistake and doesn't blame the chimps one bit. It is strange that the attack went on so long. I hope he recovers and that other people can learn from this.

    July 3, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • miguel

      A good post. Agreed.

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

    Apes in cells...

    Power and control is always met with defiance.

    Apes on the LOOSE!


    Dr. Suess would say:

    They're here, they're there, they're everywhere!


    July 3, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  15. MAria

    THIS IS So SAD for the Chimps and the Man..like the others said, he MIGHT not should of crossed that fence..Hope he gets a ful recovery. its like when the 'killer whale' klled that lady @ seaworld a year or so ago...no matter how 'well trained' they are they are still animals w/ animal insticnt.

    July 3, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Angie

      "MIGHT not should of." really?

      July 3, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
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