- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 4, 2012

JOHANNESBURG — Two adult chimpanzees who viciously attacked an American student at a primate sanctuary in South Africa were defending their territory and will be allowed to live, the lead government investigator said this week.

Conservationist Dries Pienaar blamed human error for the June 28 attack.

One of the sanctuary managers, Eugene Cussons, said he did not blame Andrew F. Oberle for crossing between two safety fences to retrieve a rock that the chimps were in the habit of throwing at tourists.

Mr. Oberle was in critical condition and in a medically induced coma by Monday night. Doctors said his family members, who have arrived from the United States, are traumatized and asking for privacy.

Mr. Pienaar said the chimps tore off one of Mr. Oberle’s testicles and some fingers from one hand and mauled his head. Mr. Pienaar expressed his “astonishment” over the attacks.

“I couldn’t believe it because I know those chimps personally,” he said.

He said he found no negligence on the part of the Jane Goodall Institute’s Chimpanzee Eden SA in eastern South Africa.

“The only thing that happened is Andrew stepped over the small barrier fence and went right up to the electric fence,” he said.

“We all know that they are tame chimps, but he shouldn’t have done that. He’s a researcher. He’s supposed to read the body language.”

Mr. Oberle was leading a group of tourists at the time. The visitors were 33 feet from the second fence, as required by safety rules.

After Mr. Oberle stepped over the first fence, the chimps dragged him under the electric fence, then out into a public area where they continued to attack him, Mr. Cussons said.

Mr. Cussons said he was happy that Mr. Pienaar found that the chimps were involved in territorial defense and therefore would not be killed or punished.

He said he was forced to shoot one of the chimps, but not mortally, after he and a ranger failed to scare the animals into releasing Mr. Oberle. When they drove a car at them, chimp Nikki jumped onto the front and smashed the windshield, causing Mr. Cussons to fire.

Nikki, about 16 years old, was wounded in the abdomen and is being treated at the Johannesburg Zoo.

The other attacker, Amadeus, in his 20s, is on lockdown with his family at the sanctuary.

Mr. Pienaar, who has worked as a conservationist for 33 years, said he condoned the shooting as a last option under protocols that recommend first shock treatment or pepper sprays.

“Other than that, I’m happy with things,” Mr. Pienaar said. “I’m not having the chimps put down. I don’t think there’s reason for that.”

Mr. Oberle is a postgraduate student of anthropology and primate behavior at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

He was on his second trip to study at the South African institute, which takes in orphaned and abused chimpanzees.



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