Chimp attack: Rehab centre not negligent

2012-07-03 10:46

Mbombela - The Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) has found no gross negligence on the part of the Chimp Eden rehabilitation centre where two chimpanzees attacked an American student.

Lead investigator Dries Pienaar told African Eye that anthropology student Andrew Oberle, 26, climbed over a 1.2m safety fence and placed his foot on a rock next to the electric fence.

“That is when the chimps grabbed his foot and pulled him under the fence. This tripped the electric fence that had around 9 000 to 12 000 volts running through it,” said Pienaar.

Pienaar said he was amazed by how much damage the two chimps, aged 15, did.

Oberle suffered several fractures, while large pieces of flesh and muscle, including one of his testicles, were torn from his body.

"They tore all the clothes from his body, there was hair and blood everywhere and they ripped out one of his testicles,” said Pienaar.

"I know the chimps and never thought they could be capable of this."


He said although the chimps grew up in captivity and were among the first males to be introduced at Chimp Eden for rehabilitation five years ago, they remained wild animals.

Pienaar believes the chimps must have felt threatened when Oberle crossed the fence and that they acted to defend their territory.

“That is why rocks are placed under the fence line to prevent turtles or meerkats from entering the camps. The chimps will rip them apart,” he said.

Pienaar said the two primates, called Nikki and Amadeus, were in such a state of aggression that they almost smashed the windscreen of handlers Eugene Cussons and Phillip Cronje who tried to use a vehicle to chase them away from Oberle.

“That is when Eugene had to shoot at Nikki with his 9mm. It was the only way,” said Pienaar.

Trauma counselling

Cussons told AENS on Monday that Amadeus has calmed down after the incident, while Nikki was taken to the Johannesburg Zoo for treatment.

“Today we have also started trauma counselling of all our staff and tourists who witnessed the event,” said Cussons.

Both Cussons and Pienaar have confirmed there is no need for the chimps to be put down.

Oberle, a student from the University of Texas in San Antonio, came to South Africa in early June to work on his Masters' degree in Anthropology.

Cussons said Oberle wanted to collect data and study the behaviour of the primates as part of his degree.

Oberle’s family arrived in Mbombela at lunch time on Monday after travelling from the US.

Oberle was still heavily sedated after undergoing six hours of surgery.

“The family has just arrived and will first see their son... but at the moment they don’t want to talk to the media and hope the media will respect their privacy,” said Medi Clinic spokesperson Robyn Baard.

Baard said a plastic surgeon was part of the team that cleaned Oberle's wounds and repaired the fractures.

“The patient is in a stable condition but he is under induced sedation to ease the pain,” she said.

  • smili.fication - 2012-07-03 10:52

    His testicle? WTF... I am sorry, but those chimps went to far... the men will appreciate this.

      smili.fication - 2012-07-03 11:14

      Another thing. Everyone thinks he is a spoilt American brat... but he is not. His parents had to fund raise in order to meet medical bills and transport costs. #Just saying

      michael.holliday2 - 2012-07-03 14:29

      He might not be a spoilt brat, but he was Stupid, I mean WTF? Climbing into an enclosure with wild animals? Anthropology student or no, he has no brains!

  • john.loveland.9 - 2012-07-03 11:07

    "climbed over a 1.2m safety fence..." Thats why its called a safety fence.. Don't blame the chimps. "..wanted to collect data and study the behaviour of the primates as part of his degree." Well I reckon he learnt a lot about their behavior in one quick easy, but painful lesson.

  • linda.trinkies - 2012-07-03 11:08

    What a twit jumping the fence, I have been to chimp Eden and excellent establishment and a twit like that may be the cause of animal having to be put down. THINK people before you do stupid things

      Anthea - 2012-07-03 11:42

      I'm glad they have said they won't put the anmals down.How often do we see pictures of people getting out of their cars at Kruger? Somehow people have this daft idea that those animals are cute and cuddly like the stuffed toys on their bed.After that woman had her face ripped off by a chimp,I'm quite sure I will not be going near any any time soon. An electric fence is a good indicator of how much you should not try to touch them.

      Ann Alejandro - 2015-01-21 18:58

      He was not a twit. He suffered the idealism of the partly-educated youth, combined with a very American character trait which can easily and comfortably believe that "the rules don't apply to me" (even Eugene has plenty of this sentiment, or had it, and one can't conclude that this trait is always a bad thing, because it has been by breaking rules held as a standard that some of the greatest human achievements have come sbout, from people who said, "Well I'm not going to do it by the rules." A young Jane Goodall did not do it by the rules, and she turned primatology and a good bit of anthropology on its ear. This kid's Frank Sinatra swan song did not go to plan. He had the exuberance, the confidence of youth. I am sorry for that split second lapse in judgment.

  • steve.gibson.146612 - 2012-07-03 11:26

    Have been to Chimp Eden a number of times and have always been impressed on their pre safety instructions. That safety fence is there for a reason and this chap should not have been pushing the boundry. The Chimps after all remain wild and unpredictable animals.

  • rahil.khanna.520 - 2012-07-03 12:27

    Like it or not ..Whether its in Captivity or not , its nonetheless a WILD Animal ! ..Stay away ! Same with petting cheetahs lions etc. Wish him a speedy recovery!

  • savannah.theron - 2012-07-03 12:34

    When will people learn. A wild animal will always be wild. People who are involved with any non-domesticated animal should never forget this fact. The animals will never be to blame as far as I am concerned. As a higher thinking species it is up to us to be aware.

  • shirley.steenkamp - 2012-07-03 12:41

    These animals are there for rehabilitaion,they are rescued from all sorts of horrors! They are wild animals and will remain just that. Humans as the "superior" species should know better.These chimps can never be released into the wild as they have all been raised in captivity and places like Chimp Eden give these animals a chance of living in a world without cruelty and more of the out doors than they have had before. Thank goodness someone had the savvy to not blame and euthanaise the animals!`

  • moi.carla.1980 - 2012-07-03 13:29

    "Oberle suffered several fractures, while large pieces of flesh and muscle, including one of his testicles, were torn from his body." Eina! Yes, he did a daft thing, but damn, that must be agonisingly painful! Hope he makes a full recovery.

  • deblyd - 2012-07-03 14:07

    When will people learn!!!! There are rules for a reason, especially when it comes to wild animals. These chimps actually have a second chance to live the rest of their lives “in the wild”. Sorry that Andrew got so severely attacked. Hope that everybody out there will see this and obey the rules in future. Why must the animals always be seen as the ones that are at fault. They were here first.

  • winston.mullany - 2012-07-03 14:42

    So much for "having the balls to go into a wild animal enclosure" Guess the chimps have his now!

  • irma.white.9 - 2012-07-03 15:00

    So glad that they are not blaming the animals in this case- I wish human error was recognised in more cases (and less wild animals put down). Sorry dude, wishing you well and I do hope that others learn from this!

  • dianne.neyt - 2012-07-03 16:08

    What a balls up!

  • patrick.eyre.5 - 2012-07-03 17:03

    The chimp is 98% human, and the human is by FAR the most dangerous creature on the planet. Just Google 'chimp attack' if you still think they're cute... This guy was a studying anthropologist, with respect, he should have known better. A chimp (or rather a band of them) will take you out mercilessly and viciously if you cross it, no question. But only a human will hold it against your entire gene pool for eternity, especially if religion is involved! Man is definitely the worst thing to have happened to this planet, but a natural product of evolution, love it or hate it!

  • fern.manire.porras - 2012-08-29 21:40

    I have seen all the episodes of Chimp Eden, and although I greatly admire Eugene Cussons and Philip Cronje and the work they do, several times I have questioned the security of the facility while watching the show. Gaps under the fences and in the skylights have allowed several escapes. In watching the series, I noticed them and thought "That doesn't look very secure to me." There should have been absolutely no way someone could possibly be pulled under a fence. If it is not possible to make the enclosure that safe, then visitors should not be allowed into the facility at all. This could have been prevented- even if someone unexpectedly breached the outer fence- and especially since tourists are invited to observe the chimps. I am hoping that Andy fully recovers from this horrible accident.

  • - 2013-02-06 01:18

    I grieve for the injuries Andrew Oberle has suffered, and wish him the best. However, it is clear he broke clear safety rules, and the mauling behavior by the two adult male chimpanzees resulted from Oberle’s failure to follow the rules. From media information, it seems he was obsessed with the species. Humans who take dangerous risks with potentially lethal encounters with exotic species are, by accounts from friends and family, often obsessed with the species. . Could this obsession have led to his irrational, and nearly fatal, behavior? It must take a measure of zeal to work with chimpanzees, considering the many negatives associated with the work. But does this same zeal put the person at risk for taking illogical (and forbidden) risks with animal interaction? Perhaps a young student who is obsessed with such a potentially dangerous species should be carefully vetted before being allowed to work at a facility where they can--sometimes by breaking the safety rules--gain access to potentially dangerous animals. The work done by the Chimp Eden facility is not only redemptive for the chimpanzees, but also for the human species, members of which have inhumanely treated chimpanzees, including the ones featured on “Chimp Eden.” Ensuring another intern does not fail to follow the rules would be a good start at avoiding risks to the future of Chimp Eden.

  • Ann Alejandro - 2015-01-21 18:35

    I believe Cussons has way more PTSD than anyone involved. I surmise that his resignation and subsequent silence were not voluntary. The Jane Goodestofthemall Foundation is not going to let anything tarnish her sainted reputation, and anything associated with her primate work must follow her standards and procedures and would therefore prevent anyone from entering a chimp enclosure. It has to be the Jane GoodforAll version of anthropomorphism, not Eugene Cussons' version. I don't care about the murderous chimps too dangerous for zoos; there is no "rehabilitation" for chimps either damaged or just living their chimp nature to its extreme. If there were cases for euthanasia or medical research, these two certainly fit the bill because what logical person could possibly care about their fates, they are two of probably thousands of Hitlers and Goerings of the chimpanzee species and at this point it is silly to wring hands and beat ourselves up. You didn't ruin them, I didn't ruin them, perhaps their third cousins ruined them; the fact is that they are ruined, unredeemable, and if they are capable of future happiness that makes them even more unsuited to the planet. As to Cussons, it is as if his privileged life once taken up by flying, scuba diving, football and rugby watching after becoming bored by creating software, swerved with great gusto into an all-in phase of true altruism tarnished by his inability to leave himself out--chimps do not need humans to teach them anything.

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