A Texas graduate student who was viciously mauled by a pair of chimpanzees at a sanctuary in South Africa specifically sought to work with them for a second straight summer because of his concern for the abused and orphaned animals.
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Andrew Oberle, 26, was attacked by two chimpanzees at the Jane Goodall Institute Chimpanzee Eden near Johannesburg on Thursday. He remains in stable condition and under sedation in the hospital after suffering injuries from head to toe. His parents arrived in South Africa on Monday afternoon to be by his bedside after he underwent six hours of surgery to repair his wounds.
“He really wanted to help (the chimpanzees) and to do all he could to help them,’’ Marissa Reimherr, a friend of Oberle’s, told Willie Geist on TODAY Tuesday live via satellite from Nelspruit, South Africa. “(He wanted to) study them and teach other people about chimp behavior and the right way to bring them up and keep them in a sanctuary like these ones were.’’
‘He knew the risks’
This was Oberle’s second summer working at the institute as he pursues a master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Texas-San Antonio. His friends said Oberle has been working in zoos for much of his life, starting at a zoo in St. Louis when he was in high school. His love for chimps began when he saw a film about anthropologist Jane Goodall in the seventh grade, his mother told The Associated Press.
“Andrew is a very smart young man,’’ friend Anthony Reimherr told Geist Tuesday. “He knew exactly what he was doing. He had worked with chimps before, and basically worked in zoos his whole life. He knew the risks.’’
Despite the horrific ordeal, Oberle’s parents have said that when he completes the long recovery from his injuries, they believe he will continue to work with chimpanzees.
“Andy is a very strong person, and he would never put any blame on anybody,’’ Marissa Reimherr said. “He’s going to get right back out there and keep doing this if he can.’’Video: US student in critical condition after chimp mauling (on this page)
‘Shock and sadness’
Oberle was giving a lecture to approximately a dozen tourists on Thursday when a pair of chimps, Nikki and Amadeus, yanked him underneath a security fence and began biting and striking him, according to authorities. The animals dragged him for nearly half a mile before institute employees were able to stop the attack.
When Andrew Reimherr received the news of the attack from Oberle’s mother, he told Geist, “It was just shock and sadness and a whole bunch of different emotions that we were feeling.’’
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Eugene Cussons, the director at the institute, has said publicly that Oberle broke a rule by going behind the first of two fences that separate the chimps from the tourists. Cussons fired two warning shots into the air with a handgun that finally scared the animals away after sanctuary employees had tried to pull the chimpanzees off Oberle. Cussons then retreated to his truck as the chimpanzees remained aggressive, forcing Cussons to fire gunshots through the windshield as the animals jumped on to the vehicle.Video: Chimp attack victim’s condition upgraded (on this page)
One of those gunshots wounded Nikki, who is now stable and being cared for at the Johannesburg Zoo. The two animals, which have lived at the sanctuary for six years, are not going to be euthanized, according to officials. The spot where the mauling occurred is still locked down and being treated as a crime scene.Story: Chimp attack victim reveals her new face
Doctors have stated that Oberle was lucky to have escaped worse injuries. In 2009, Connecticut woman Charla Nash lost her hands and eyesight and had to have a face transplant after being attacked by a friend’s chimpanzee that was eventually shot by police. In 2005, St. James Davis, a California man, had to undergo facial reconstruction and more than 60 operations after being mauled by a chimp at a California wildlife rescue center.
To contribute to a fund for Andrew Oberle’s recovery, click here.
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