US student mauled by chimpanzees in South Africa

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This undated photo provided by the Facebook group HelpAndrewOberle shows graduate student Andrew Oberle observing chimps. Doctors are reporting improvement in the condition of Oberle, who was attacked by chimps he was studying in South Africa. (AP / HelpAndrewOberle)

JOHANNESBURG (CNN) — An American graduate student is in critical condition at a Johannesburg hospital after being attacked by chimpanzees at a sanctuary in South Africa, a spokeswoman said.

Andrew Oberle has undergone two operations since the Thursday attack at the Jane Goodall Institute’s Chimp Eden sanctuary near Nelspruit, South Africa, hospital spokeswoman Robyn Baard said.

According to CNN affiliate KSDK-TV, Oberle was giving a tour at the sanctuary when he reportedly crossed over one of two fences separating animals from the public. Two chimpanzees then attacked him, pulling him under the second fence and dragging him at least a half mile, KSDK reported.

Baard declined to discuss the nature of Oberle’s wounds, saying his parents had requested privacy.

“They are well but quite traumatized,” she said.

The sanctuary, which is featured in the Animal Planet program “Escape to Chimp Eden,” has been temporarily closed to investigate the incident, Executive Director David Oosthuizen said in a statement.

Chimp Eden was established as a home for rescued chimpanzees, and many have suffered “horrible injuries and abuse from humans,” according to the sanctuary.

It does not appear the sanctuary was negligent, said Dries Pienaar of the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency, who investigated the attack. But Pienaar said investigators still need to interview Oberle.

Dave Salmoni, a large predator expert for the Animal Planet channel, said abused and captive chimpanzees can be particularly dangerous, likening the chimps to troubled inmates in prison.

“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 is originally from St. Louis. He is studying anthropology and primatology at the University of Texas at San Antonio, according to the sanctuary. He’s been at the Goodall Institute since May, KSDK reported.

One of his friends, Anthony Reimherr, told CNN affiliate KXAN-TV that Oberle was smart and “intriguing” to listen to when he started talking about 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.
This article was provided by the CNN Wire.  TM & © 2012 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

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