A Texas graduate student was standing in a restricted area for which he did not have clearance when he was pulled under an electrified fence and mauled by two chimpanzees at a South Africa chimp sanctuary, officials said today.
The attack on Andrew Oberle, 26, who was leading a tour, was likely prompted by chimpanzees wanting to protect their territory, said Eugene Cussons, director at the Jane Goodall Institute Chimpanzee Eden near Johannesburg, where Oberle had been researching for the summer.
During a lecture Thursday, Oberle crossed one of two fences separating him from the animals into a "no go zone," Cussons said. Oberle did not have clearance to be standing in the area past the public fence.
Oberle stepped on a rock, peeceived by the chimps as their terrority when he neared an electrified fence. Two male chimpanzees named Nikki and Amadeus reached underneath pulled him halfway under the fence by his foot. Oberle fought to not be pulled into the enclosure.
At this point, the sanctuary instituted its lockdown procedure, Cussons said.
The institute believes the chimpanzees were able to escape through the space made by Oberle's body. Nikki and Amadeus then dragged Oberle 30 meters into the public area and continued to maul him.
Armed guards were brought in to protect buildings, while keepers and manager rushed to the location.
Cussons said he parked 50 meters from the chimpanzees, exited the car and fired two rounds from a small handgun into the air and one into the ground.
But the gunfire did not not scare the chimps, and when they charged Cussons, he got back in his car, he said. Nikki jumped on the hood of the car and started bashing the windshield.
Cussons said he fired one round through the glass and injured the chimp. The other chimpanzee immediately became submissive and the chimps moved away, allowing Cussons and first responders to get to Oberle, he said.
First responder Lloyd Krause said when he got to Oberle, the University of Texas San Antonio student was stripped down and the only way he knew he was alive was that his chest was moving.
"The chimps were still out there. ... He was curled up in a little ball," Krause told ABC News.
Oberle, who is studying anthropology at the University of Texas at San Antonio, suffered huge cuts to his head and face. The mauling left his skull and facial bones exposed.
Oberle underwent six hours of surgery today. Doctors cleaned and stitched all of his wounds. Oberle is in stable condition and induced sedation, doctors said.
The vicious attack left Oberle with injures over his entire body. His right upper arm is broken, while his lower right arm muscle and ligaments are torn and exposed to the bone. Oberle's left arm was mauled and he lost fingers on both hands.
One testicle was ripped off and he suffered deep lacerations to both legs and lost several toes.
"When you thought about it afterwards and realized just how much danger there was, the extent of his injuries, and the fact that he just shouldn't be here anymore after all of that, it sunk in then," Krausse said.
"The doctors are satisfied at the moment ... with the patient's condition," said Carmen Savva, the hospital manager overseeing Oberle's recovery in Nelspruit. "He's responding better than expected."
Oberle's friends in Texas are raising funds for his care, hoping he can one day get back to doing what he loves.
"He's not going to quit," said friend Anthony Reimherr. "He never gives up."