A group of tourists visiting a South African animal sanctuary were horrified to see their American lecturer seized and hauled away by two enraged chimpanzees. The animals dragged the American for nearly a kilometre and severely mauled him.
The victim, identified in local media as Andrew Oberle, 26, is an American research student studying for his masters degree in Anthropology and Primatology. He was reported at the weekend to be in critical condition in a South African hospital, fighting for his life.
Oberle was in the middle of his lecture to the tourist group when two chimpanzees sneaked up, grabbed his feet and pulled him under the perimeter fence and into the enclosure, Beeld newspaper reported. The animals then made off with him, dragging him away.
Paramedics, who entered the enclosure under armed guard, found Oberle lying in a foetal position with massive injuries, deep wounds, lacerations, abrasions, missing fingers, toes and an ear.
The incident occurred at the Jane Goodall Institute Chimp Eden near the eastern town of Nelspruit. The sanctuary temporarily closed after the attack.
“This is a terrible tragedy that should never happen,” David Oosthuizen, executive director of the Jane Goodall Institute-South Africa, said in a statement reported by ABC News.
“All our thoughts and prayers are with this young man and his family. The safety of our visitors and staff is paramount. We have never had an incident like this, and we have closed the sanctuary to investigate how we can try to ensure it will not happen again.”
A joint venture between the Jane Goodall Institute-South Africa and a private park, Chimp Eden is a sanctuary for rescued chimpanzees. Oosthuizen said the animals needed to be treated with caution as they had been injured and abused by humans.
Chimpanzees are not native to South Africa and don’t live there in the wild, though there are plenty of baboons. South African authorities last year were forced to kill Fred, a notorious baboon, for robbing cars and threatening tourists at Cape Town’s scenic Cape Point. Fred was said to have attacked and injured three people in 2010.
While baboons are immensely powerful, not everyone realises chimps are also very strong and quick and can occasionally be violent. In the US, Connecticut woman Charla Nash was attacked in 2009 by a friend’s chimpanzee that ripped off her nose, lips, eyelids and hands before being shot dead by police. Nash was blinded and has had a face transplant.
Written by Peter Needham