Chimps attack American at South Africa sanctuary
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JOHANNESBURG -- Chimpanzees at a sanctuary founded by famed primatologist Jane Goodall pulled a Texas graduate student into their fenced-off enclosure, dragging him nearly a half-mile and biting his ear and hands.
Andrew F. Oberle was giving a lecture Thursday to a group of tourists at the Chimp Eden sanctuary when two chimpanzees grabbed his feet and pulled him under a fence into their enclosure, said Jeffrey Wicks of the Netcare911 emergency services company. The 26-year-old anthropology student at the University of Texas at San Antonio suffered "multiple and severe bite wounds," Mr. Wicks said.
He was in critical condition Friday after undergoing surgery at the Mediclinic hospital in Nelspruit, 180 miles from Johannesburg, hospital officials said.
Mr. Oberle, who was doing research at the sanctuary, had crossed the first of two fences separating the chimpanzees from visitors and was standing close to the second fence, which is electrified, at the time of the attack, said Edwin Jay, chairman of the Jane Goodall Institute South Africa.
The sanctuary was temporarily closed after the attack, said David Oosthuizen, the institute's executive director. "The safety of our visitors and staff is paramount," he said. "We have never had an incident like this, and we have closed the sanctuary to investigate how we can ensure it will not happen again."
Mr. Oberle lost part of an ear and parts of his fingers in the attack, according to the South African newspaper Beeld. The sanctuary's manager, Eugene Cussons, fired into the air to scare the chimps away from Mr. Oberle, then chased them back into their enclosure. Mr. Cussons is the host of Animal Planet's "Escape to Chimp Eden."
Mr. Oberle's mother, Mary Flint of St. Louis, said her son has been working with chimpanzees in South Africa since May. They have been "his passion" since seventh grade, when he watched a film about Jane Goodall. She said her son knew the risks of working with chimps and would not want them blamed for the attack.
The Goodall institute opened the Chimpanzee Eden sanctuary in 2006 as a haven for chimpanzees rescued from elsewhere in Africa. They are not native to South Africa. Some lost parents to poachers in countries where they are hunted for their meat or sold to be pets; others were held in captivity in cruel conditions.
Institute spokeswoman Claire Jones said in an email that Ms. Goodall would have no comment "out of respect for the young man and his family."
Ms. Goodall, a Cambridge University-trained ethnologist, began studying chimpanzees in Tanzania's Gombe National Park in 1960.
Since 1994, her institute has been involved in conservation programs across Africa.
First Published June 30, 2012 12:00 am