Attack: Chimps calm, showing remorse

2012-07-01 22:32

Johannesburg - In the six years he's managed a sanctuary for abused and orphaned chimpanzees, South African conservationist Eugene Cussons is from time to time called on to comment when an ape somewhere in the world attacks a human.

Cussons says he always could pinpoint a moment of taunting or perceived aggression that could have set off the quick and powerful animals.

This time, though, the attack was at his own Jane Goodall Institute Chimpanzee Eden in South Africa. And Cussons, host of the Animal Planet show Escape to Chimp Eden, is without an explanation.

In telephone interview on Saturday, Cussons said he would have to wait until the severely injured victim, Andrew Oberle, a University of Texas graduate student inspired by famed primatologist Jane Goodall to study chimps, was well enough to provide details about Thursday's attack.

It was the first such attack since Cussons, working with Goodall's renowned international institute, converted part of his family's game farm into the sanctuary in 2006.

"You can train for it, you can do your best to prepare," Cussons said. "But when it actually happens, it's shocking and traumatic for everyone."


Cussons's team quickly evacuated the dozen tourists to whom Oberle had been giving a lecture and tried to separate the chimps from Oberle. In the end, Cussons, who was himself attacked by a chimp as he tried to pull it off Oberle, took the extreme step of firing into the air, scaring the animals away.

Oberle was bitten repeatedly and dragged for nearly a kilometre.

Cussons said one of the chimps was injured in the scuffle, and he was awaiting a veterinarian's report to determine the nature and extent of the injury. No one else was hurt.

Male chimps can stand up to 1.7m tall and weigh about 70kg, according to the institute. The two chimps that attacked Oberle were male, though the sanctuary's website did not say how large the animals were.

Cussons said it was the first time he had asked Oberle to speak to visitors. The student had arrived last month for a follow-up visit after an extended stay to observe the chimps a year or so ago, Cussons said.

As a researcher, Cussons said Oberle had been trained to ensure he understood how the animals might behave and knew to keep a safe distance. Cussons said Oberle was given additional training before addressing the tour group.

Cussons said Oberle broke the rules by going through the first of two fences that separate humans from the chimps. The chimps then grabbed him and pulled him under the second fence, which is electrified. Cussons said it was unclear why Oberle had moved so dangerously close.

Mediclinic Nelspruit said on Sunday that Oberle, who had been in critical condition since Thursday's attack, was stable enough  for doctors to bring him into the operating room to clean and stitch his multiple bites and attend to fractures and other injuries sustained during the attack by two chimpanzees.

Oberle remains in intensive care, but is no longer in a critical condition.

Parents on their way

Oberle's uncle, Carl Oberle, told The Associated Press on Saturday that Oberle's parents were on their way to South Africa.

"It is a hard time right now for our family," said Carl Oberle, who did not want to discuss details of his nephew's condition.

He said his nephew had returned to South Africa to study the animals that were his "passion." He noted the young man previously worked for several years as a camp counselor at the St Louis Zoo.

"He was a real inspiration to the children he worked with and extremely well-liked and respected," zoo spokesperson Susan Gallagher said on Saturday.

Oberle's mother, Mary Flint, said Friday that her son knew the risks of working with chimps and would not want them blamed for the attack.

"He adored them," she said. "Since he was a little boy he just loved them, and I just have faith that ... when all is said and done, he's going to go right back into it."


The sanctuary has been closed to tourists since the attack, while government and police officials investigate. The Jane Goodall Institute South Africa is conducting its own investigation.

"Everyone at Chimp Eden is hurting," Cussons said, saying the thoughts of staff members were with Oberle and his family.

Cussons said the two chimps that attacked Oberle, Amadeus and Nikki, had been isolated since the attack. He said they were calm and exhibiting remorse, which he said chimps show by behaving submissively.

Human-animal contact is kept to a minimum at the sanctuary, designed as a haven for chimpanzees that have been rescued from elsewhere in Africa.

Some lost their parents to poachers in countries where they are hunted for their meat or to be sold as pets, and others were held in captivity in cruel conditions.

According to the sanctuary's website, one of the chimps involved in the attack, Amadeus, was orphaned in Angola and brought to South Africa in 1996, where he was kept at the Johannesburg Zoo until the sanctuary opened.

The other, Nikki, came from Liberia in 1996 and also was held at the zoo until becoming one of the first chimps at the sanctuary.

Before arriving in South Africa, Nikki, whose parents were killed for their meat, had been treated like a son by his owners, who dressed him in clothes, shaved his body and taught him to eat at a table using cutlery, the website said.

  • monde.sibisi - 2012-07-01 22:49

    Take them back to the wild!!

      michael.a.devilliers - 2012-07-01 23:04

      "Abused and orphaned" - means they can't fend for themselves in the wild.

      thomas.cannon.712 - 2012-07-01 23:31

      Took the extreme step and fired into the air and scaring the animals away!!! Wouldn't that be the first step??? What is so extreme in firing into the air? He only did that after being bitten trying to rescue the guy, what was he thinking? How the hell did they get to him from under the fence without being shocked or even just escaping?? Something fishy here!!

      martin.britchford.5 - 2012-07-02 07:26

      These are some of the smartest people alive on earth, I agree with monde, give them freedom, we have studied them for years, teach them how to live in the wild, they are not stupid beasts. who goes to see caged people anyway, only animals!!

      martin.britchford.5 - 2012-07-02 07:57

      oh wait i forgot, we stole their wild. never mind

      merven.halo - 2012-07-02 08:10

      'Take them back to the wild!!' So that they can become meat for some barbarian?

      lande.willemse - 2012-07-02 11:58

      So they can be hunted down again??? I don't think so. With all due respect, it was his own fault, he broke the rules...

      lande.willemse - 2012-07-02 12:02

      At thomas.cannon... nothing fishy there. I am a journalist who have visited Chimp Eden on several occassions. The man broke the rules and climbed through the safety fence,,, people forget that these animals stay wild animals!! And BTW, you can't just fire into the air, where do you think that bullet goes to? Space? The Cussons family have spared no expenses to make the centre safe for both primates and humans. Get your facts right before accusing!

  • boltonbarry - 2012-07-01 22:49

    News 24 check your headline spelling please

  • shaun.moolman.9 - 2012-07-01 23:01

    Please learn to spell dear journalist!!!!!!!!!!!

  • RaveWolf1 - 2012-07-01 23:17

    ROFLMAO!!! What on Earth is Remose? I think you should show your poor readers some Remose. Oh and I think Counsellor should be with two L's not one. We use UK Spelling not US in South Africa. Please check your Grammar as well. There are many grammar errors in this article, "In ? telephone interview on Saturday,.." for one. I would have pointed out the rest, but then I'd have to copy and paste it all. It's not a good sign when someone with Dyslexia has to point out your errors.

      koo.doyle - 2012-07-02 07:50

      No offence, but before pointing out other people's errors, perhaps fix your own. Your own post is littered with random capital letters with no rhyme or reason.

      eric.martinsich - 2012-07-02 10:11

      Another "person" that focusses on spelling than the actual issue.

      RaveWolf1 - 2012-07-02 21:27

      @Koo.doyle - No offence taken. Thank you for pointing out my Possible faults. However, if it was still the 1980's I would have agreed with you 100%, but we are now in the digital era, it's called Emphasis, and in modern writing or blogging it is completely acceptable to Capitalize certain words to place certain Emphasis to get your point across. Please, look it up! ;)

  • Lacrimose - 2012-07-01 23:40

    Chimps 1 - (some)Human's 0. Many humans show 0 remorse unless in front of a judge

  • antin.herinck - 2012-07-02 00:19

    They show remorse? Oberle is the one who should show remorse. (Even if being nearly killed has redemptive aspects.) He lead his tourists in an area where he was not permitted to go. Good he was taken and not someone innocent. No man can take on a grown male chimp, but two -'could have been easily killed. I doubt if Oberle will want his old job back, when he is wheeled out of intensive care. Perhaps there's a position in some nice petting zoo.

      martin.britchford.5 - 2012-07-02 07:29

      wanna bet, man isnt as civilised and sissy as we are taught, a full grown man, seeing red, with his intelligence will tear a chimp apart using tools. we dont share their strength, but a decent club and rage goes a long way.

      lande.willemse - 2012-07-02 12:05

      I agree with you antin. Rules are rules

      Charms - 2012-07-02 12:06

      To both you idiots...I am sure the only thing you know how to do is hugging your laptops on your couch....this person might have done the wrong thing by going to close to them, however, I am sure like most conservationist who have been in "accidents" like these, they never blame the animal, but will go back and do what he has a passion for..and that is protecting them, what have you done lately...mmmm? Maybe just waisting some good "air" time... shame on you!!!

      antin.herinck - 2012-07-02 12:24

      Charms face-palm to you. Wrong is wrong, And doing right as well is no excuse. An otherwise good police man, doing a good job, but who checks if a round is in the chamber by puling the trigger and shoots himself in the foot, missing a member of the public, should not be in his job. This person evidently both disobeyed the rules and was ignorant to the danger he put himself and others in. The ONLY reason why he should continue his job, is that it's reasonable to think he learned a hard lesson. But this lesson was at the expense of trauma and danger to others and medical fees to the (charity) employer. Say "shame on you" all you will, but stupidity and ignorance have consequences.

      Charms - 2012-07-02 13:01

      Yes!!! That is why we learn from that...AS I SAID!! Next time he will know better, no need to put him down..obviously you have never made any mistakes...Well done!!

      Ivory Jones - 2013-09-28 05:23

      How shallow & insensitive your comments are. Oberle made a mistake for which he & the sanctuary have paid dearly. This is a very real danger for anyone who works around powerful wild animals. It is a danger that the management & staff at the sanctuary understand & accept as part of their work. There is absolutely nothing "good" about this tragic event. But if we have learned anything from decades of studying chimps .. they are very territorial & very smart & very strong. Very few people who work with chimps are not injured at some point to some degree if they work with them for any length of time. Heck, I've been injured training dogs.

  • - 2012-07-02 00:39

    Why do you people who comment on here have so much hatred and bitterness? Are you's so perfect?

      Kenny Bianco - 2012-07-02 05:51

      I thot it's only me who noticed that negativity

      antin.herinck - 2012-07-02 11:58

      How is it "negative" to point out that it's best to obey rules and signs that are in place to ensure one's safety? The victim thought he knew better and suffered the consequences. Not only that, it was his job to guide the visitors, but he put their lives at risk. Like driving a taxi with passengers and disregarding a red robot. That's wrong too. And is it "negative" to condemn this as well?

      Charms - 2012-07-02 12:21

      Aggree with you hephzibah...they seem to know better than the people who were actually least this poor man was trying to do some good, event though he made a mistake, more than you can say for some of these misfits on this site...who probably has never done anything good in their lives unless it was for self gain...and of course to always sprout negative things...

      antin.herinck - 2012-07-02 12:43

      Charms you can come with meaningless ad hominems all you will, but the fact remains that Oberle simply made the dangerous mistake of forgetting that he was dealing with potentially very dangerous animals. He should have known better. I'm sure that he knew what chimps do to other chimps, at times. They murder them just for the hell of it. What made him think that they would not go for him? If you want to play Jane Goodall, you'd better know how to read them! I can only add that the management of the Institute has a few questions to answer as well. No doubt they will take the appropriate measures. But tell me charms. I read this article, and the others relating to this as well. Where do I "seem to know better than the people who were actually there"? What do you know that I "seem" to know, but that I don't?

      Charms - 2012-07-02 13:09

      Maybe you should go re-read your post.."He lead his tourists....bla bla bla" were you there..the article said that he went through the first of 2 fences..not his visitors..there is a difference you know..

      antin.herinck - 2012-07-02 13:17

      Charms, I start to enjoy your obdurate idiocy. Go and have a look at: Now see what I mean that if it says that one should not be there and chimps are involved, you'd better listen!

      Charms - 2012-07-02 13:42

      Mmmm Yes! Oh so sorry!...forgot that tour leaders stand behind the quests or visitors when they brief them...the chimps must have jumped very high over these people grabbed him and quickly pulled him under and through these visitors and then through this 2nd ja, what can I are so clever...lets leave it at that, where people are looking to see everything in the negative, they will find a way...

      antin.herinck - 2012-07-02 14:15

      Charms, in case you want to continue to make a fool of yourself, kindly read this and then see if you continue to blather your ignorance here: Netcare 911 spokesperson Jeffrey Wicks said it appeared the ranger led the tour past an enclosure and he stood near the fence. "According to eyewitnesses, two chimpanzees grabbed the man by his feet and pulled him under the perimeter fence and into the enclosure." and (NEW YORK) -- A Texas graduate student was standing in a restricted area for which he did not have clearance when he was pulled under an electrified fence and mauled by two chimpanzees at a South Africa chimp sanctuary, officials said today. But I'll grant you that he did not endanger the public nearly as much as he did himself. For the rest what I said stands. The visitors will have been traumatised. Seeing your guide being carried away, badly assaulted and gun shots. 'Hope there were no children present. Bye, Charms.

      Charms - 2012-07-04 11:47

      Dear Antin.... If I give you a thumbs-ub...will you shut up!?

  • peter.fraser.92754 - 2012-07-02 05:36

    .Something went wrong,one cannot comment miles away and most people are not experts on animal behaviour.I know that chimps will kill their own and eat them, but have not heard them going completely bananas towards a human being. It is up to the owners to decide what is the right thing to do. A wild animal always stays a wild animal. PS. lets face it, their closest relative, which is us,is far better known for our acts of violence.

  • Ryno - 2012-07-02 07:35

    hopefuly they will not put the animal(s) down that attacked the person

  • Msika - 2012-07-02 07:46

    "This time, though, the attack was at his own Jane Goodall Institute Chimpanzee Eden in South Africa. And Cussons, host of the Animal Planet show Escape to Chimp Eden, is without an explanation." What's there to explain, realy?? these are wild animals, and they were doing / did what wild animals do. Stay away from wild animals poeple!!!

  • leaproach.thekeeper - 2012-07-02 09:02

    Wicked things these chimps. Humans handle them at their peril.

  • andre.stols.581 - 2012-07-02 09:38

    never ever forget that many humans in Africa are worse than wild animals and in my opinion,the animals have more rights than those humans.leave the animals alone and start working on the wild humans.

      Charms - 2012-07-02 12:17

      so right..we may even learn from them..

  • oliver.brettschneider - 2012-07-02 10:00

    They are called wild animals for a reason.

  • sharon.tarin1 - 2012-07-02 10:33

    Any animal with a history of trauma could turn and it's much the same with domestic pets. Personally, I think it's awesome that there are human beings taking on projects like this and clearly an act of love. I have no doubt that all concerned are aware of the risks. How about we give some support to all concerned.

  • Charms - 2012-07-02 12:31

    Oberle, may you recover quicly and continue the good work for what you have a passion for, dont mind the critics as they are only jellous of your accomplishments, what happened was an accident and something to learn form of which I am sure you will do.....keep up the good work and I for one commend you for it...Just wish there were more of you out there...

  • elize.swanepoel.71 - 2012-07-02 13:32

    This is a very unfortunate incident. I've also visited Chimp Eden in the past and it was a great experience. All the staff are very professional and the both primates and humans are safe during the tours. I have great respect for the all their hard work and compassion to save these animals. Unfortunately Oberle wasn't suppose to be so close to the apes. But I do think about him and his family in this difficult times and hope he has a speedy recovery.

  • debbie.jennings.98 - 2012-07-02 14:23

    I am one of the lucky ones who has visited the chimp sanctuary and had the guided tour and listened to the traumatic stories of these chimps and how humans had abused them and it is clearly made known to you to stay away from the fences on your guided tour which is expertly done.It is a wonderful place and i pray that the santuary will be able to open it's doors again soon.I would go back there again and even volunteer to work there. But if your not an animal lover you won't understand, some people have some terrible comments to say, and if they have nothing better to say then don't say it. But i do pray that the young gentleman will have a speedy recovery and not let this affect his passion for working with the chimps, just get better.

  • patsy.smith.125 - 2012-07-03 12:11

    A speedy recovery to Andrew Oberle. But, please, next time (if there is one) obey the rules. These animals have been grossly abused and cannot be expected to treat humans with anything but distrust and aggression

  • Ivory Jones - 2013-09-13 05:19

    The work Eugene & the sanctuary staff have done to understand & rehabilitate these beautiful intelligent creatures has been nothing short of miraculous. I assure you on the day this attack took place far worse attacks were committed by humans against other humans - we don't even understand our own violent tendencies yet we expect animals to behave like humans?? It might be a lot worse .. at least chimps don't use guns.

  • Ivory Jones - 2013-09-28 05:15

    We send our deepest condolences to Mr. Cussons & all staff & supporters of the sanctuary. Thank you so much for respecting these animals enough to NOT euthanize or shoot them as has occurred in other similar attacks. If 99% of the people worked 1% as hard as you have to do something, anything to right the wrongs being done to these animals we could change the world. Thank you for the show. We watch the reruns all the time & enjoy them more each time. This is a sad time for us all.

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