SAN ANTONIO -- Friends say the University of Texas at San Antonio graduate student mauled by chimpanzees at an animal sanctuary in South Africa is now in stable condition.
The friends of Andrew Oberle say the 26-year-old is recovering at a hospital in South Africa and his mother is now by his side. The Jane Goodall Institute is where Oberle fulfilled his dreams of working with chimpanzees while researching his graduate thesis. It’s also where his worst nightmare took place.
"Blows my mind,” his friend Aaron Killian-Smith tells News 4 WOAI. “Something like this happened to such an amazing guy out there doing what he loved."
Killian-Smith now feels helpless as he waits in San Antonio for any information on Oberle’s condition.
"We just want to get him healthy and get him back home,” he says.
Witnesses of the attack say Oberle was showing tourists around the Jane Goodall Institute when he tried to retrieve a rock from a chimp enclosure. They say he was afraid the animals would use it as a projectile. The institute’s director Eugene Cussons says the chimps became threatened when Oberle climbed over an outer fence into what’s called a 'no-go' area.
"It might have been instinctive for him to climb over the safety fence and go for something which he felt was necessary to do,” Cussons says.
Oberle’s sister told a St. Louis newspaper he lost his ears, left arm, and all of his toes when two chimps attacked him and dragged him 100 feet.
Oberle has previously work for the San Antonio Zoo, which does not have chimpanzees. However, the zoo does house primates that, like any other animal, can become territorial.
"We remind staff of safety first every day,” San Antonio Zoo director Steve McCusker says. “If you get lackadaisical, or you think you don't have to pay attention, then that's what happens."
Friends say Andrew Oberle was trained to work safely with chimps, so it won’t be until his condition improves that we’ll know what went wrong. They say Oberle would never blame the animals for what happened. They have no doubt that when he’s back on his feet, he’ll be back working with the animals.
Until then, friends are raising money to help with travel and medical expenses.
Click here to learn how to donate