JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Two chimpanzees that attacked an American student at the Chimp Eden sanctuary near Nelspruit, South Africa, will be allowed to live.
Andrew Oberle, 26, was left in critical condition last week after the chimps pulled him under a fence and dragged him for more than half a mile into their enclosure.
Oberle suffered serious injuries including fractures and bite wounds, with parts of several fingers and a testicle torn from his body. He is now in stable condition at a Nelspruit hospital, but heavily sedated after undergoing surgery.
Dries Pienaar, an investigator with the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency, said today he had found no negligance on the part of the Jane Goodall Institute-run sanctuary, which takes in abused chimpanzees.
Human error was to blame, he told the Associated Press. Oberle, who was talking to a tour group, had reportedly broken the rules by climbing over a a four-foot safety fence.
"I'm not having the chimps put down," Pienaar said. "I don't think there's reason for that."
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Pienaar told the African Eye news service that after climbing over the safety fence, Oberle placed his foot on a rock next to the secondary electrified fence that surrounds the chimp enclosure.
This, he said, may have made the chimps feel threatened, at which point they acted to defend their territory by grabbing him by the foot and pulling him under the fence.
"They tore all the clothes from his body, there was hair and blood everywhere and they ripped out one of his testicles,” Pienaar told African Eye. "I know the chimps and never thought they could be capable of this."
Chimpanzees have six times the strength of a human being. The two chimps involved in the attack, Nikki and Amadeus, reportedly smashed the front windshield of a vehicle that came to chase them away from Oberle.
Oberle, a University of Texas at San Antonio graduate student in anthropology, had been studying chimpanzee behavior at the sanctuary.
His family has arrived in South Africa, and friends have appealed for donations to help pay for medical care and travel expenses.
"Andrew was meant to work with animals," his roommate Marissa Reimherr said in a statement.
"This is what he loves to do. I know Andy, and I know that he will continue his work when he recovers," she said. "Yes, this is tragic, but Andy will not see this as a tragedy; he will see it as an opportunity."
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This was the first reported attack at the Chimp Eden sanctuary, which opened six years ago and is the subject of a TV series, Escape to Chimp Eden, broadcast on Animal Planet.
The TV show chronicles efforts to rescue chimpanzees from abuse and neglect, including from circuses, nightclubs where they are kept as entertainment, and from the bushmeat trade in parts of Africa.
Visitors can take guided tours at the sanctuary, where they are told about chimp behavior and learn the animals' stories.
"This is a terrible tragedy that should never happen," said David Oosthuizen, Chimp Eden's executive director.
"Any interaction between humans and wild animals can be dangerous as wild animals are often very strong and can act aggressively if approached or if they feel threatened," he said.
The Chimp Eden sanctuary, located near Nelspruit, about 180 miles northeast of Johannesburg, has closed temporarily to investigate safety protocols.
Staff at the Chimp Eden sanctuary, and tourists who witnessed the attack, are undergoing trauma counseling.
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