Two adult chimpanzees that viciously attacked a U.S. student at a primate sanctuary in South Africa were defending their territory and will be allowed to live, the lead government investigator said Tuesday.
Conservationist Dries Pienaar blamed human error for Thursday’s attack.
But 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.
Oberle was in critical condition and in a medically induced coma in the hospital by Monday night. On Tuesday, doctors refused to describe his condition saying the family, who had arrived from the United States, is asking for privacy.
Pienaar told The Associated Press that the chimps tore some fingers off one of Oberle’s hands, among other injuries. This was “to my astonishment, 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.”
Oberle was leading a group of tourists at the time. The visitors were 10 metres from the second fence, as required by safety rules. After Oberle stepped over the first fence, the chimps dragged him under the electric fence and mauled him around the head and arm.
Cussons said he was happy that Pienaar’s investigation found the chimps were involved in territorial defence and would not therefore be killed or punished.