American student mauled by chimps in South Africa

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 29, 2012 11:49 AM
American student mauled by chimps in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - An American graduate student is in hospital in South Africa after being badly mauled by two large male chimpanzees who attacked him as he stood close to their enclosure in a sanctuary for abused chimps, the sanctuary director said on Friday.

The victim lost several fingers and was dragged down by the chimpanzees in the attack on Thursday at the Jane Goodall Institute Chimpanzee Eden near the northeastern town Nelspruit.

Chimp Eden, a joint venture with the ape conservation institute founded by renowned U.S. primatologist Jane Goodall, is a sanctuary for ill-treated chimpanzees rescued from the illegal pet and bushmeat trades and from the entertainment industry.

Sanctuary director David Oosthuizen said the injured student, whom he did not name, was from the University of Texas, San Antonio (UTSA), and was studying for a masters degree in Anthropology and Primatology.

He was working as a guide and was with a group of tourists at an enclosure holding adult male chimpanzees when he was attacked by two of the larger males, called Mickey and Amadeus.

"The guy was just too close to the fence, they tried to pull him in," he told Reuters. Sanctuary staff moved quickly to rescue him and move the visitors to safety. The victim was rushed to the nearest hospital and was being treated.

Asked what might have triggered the attack, Oosthuizen said abused chimps were very like abused children. "Chimps in the wild go into a frenzy ... something just snaps," he said.

Oosthuizen said the sanctuary would be closed temporarily while an investigation was carried out to ensure that such attacks did not happen again.

"We have never had an incident like this," he said.

In a separate written statement, Oosthuizen said chimpanzees were wild animals and could be defensive of their territories. "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."

"Additionally, the chimpanzees at Chimp Eden have suffered horrible injuries and abuse from humans and therefore have to be treated with caution," he added.

(Reporting Sherilee Lakmidas; Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Ed Stoddard and Tim Pearce)