NELSPRUIT, SOUTH AFRICA (CBS News) - An American graduate student is recovering in the hospital in South Africa Sunday 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.
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.
The sanctuary said the injured student was from the University of Texas, San Antonio, and was studying for a Masters degree in Anthropology and Primatology.
Sanctuary manager Eugene Cussons said Oberle's attack was unfortunate as he knew the dangers of working with abused chimpanzees.
"Someone in Andrew's situation has a much lower level clearance and falls under - outside - a no-go zone. What he does have is permission to is to be able move about unescorted because he has been briefed about the regulations and rules, he knows about the dangers, he has extensive knowledge on chimpanzee behaviour," said Cussons.
Doctors treating Oberle at the Medi-Clinic hospital in Mpumalanga are optimistic about his recovery.
"He is a lot better than when he came in and he would have to be in a stable condition to go to theater so we are very positive at this stage," said Medi-Clinic spokesperson, Robin Baard.
Oberle was working as a guide on Saturday 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.
According to the sanctuary, Orberle was too close to the fence when the chimps tried to pull him in. Sanctuary staff moved quickly to rescue him and moved the visitors to safety.
"Basically from head to toe he has been severely lacerated, has a number of fractures. He has had a number of muscles and skin pulled completely away from the bones of his arms and feet. He has lost a number of fingers and toes," said Lloyd Krause, from ER24, the ambulance service that rushed Oberle to hospital.
The sanctuary will be closed temporarily while an investigation is carried out to ensure that such attacks do not happen again.