(NEW YORK) — As Andrew Oberle, the Texas graduate student who was mauled by chimpanzees in South Africa in late June, recovers in a hospital, a director of the center where the attack took place said the chimps were victims, too.
In his first extensive interview since the attack, Eugene Cussons, managing director of the Jane Goodall Institute Chimpanzee Eden in Nelspruit, South Africa, said Nikki and Amadeus, the chimpanzees who attacked Oberle on June 28, suffered before coming to Chimpanzee Eden. Nikki was raised as a human child, and Amadeus watched his family be killed and cooked to sell as food on the roadside.
“He [Nikki] used to wear human clothes, he was shaved, it was very much like a human child,” Cussons told ABC News. “Amadeus had a more traumatic past. He was just a baby and a product of the bush meat trade. Some of his family members were being cooked and served.”
Oberle, 26, was leading a tour group at Chimpanzee Eden when he was attacked by the two male chimps. Cussons told ABC News it was a lack of judgment on Oberle’s part that led to the attack.
“You have to always keep in mind that these are wild creatures,” said Cussons. “You [Oberle] had a lapse in judgment across the safety boundary and get too close to the main fence, and he took his eyes off the chimpanzees when he did that.”
Cussons said he believed Oberle crossed the public fence and entered a “no-go zone” just before he was attacked. From witness reports, it’s believed that Oberle stepped on a rock under an electrified fence that Nikki and Amadeus viewed as their territory.
“The chimpanzee got enraged on the other side,” Cussons said. “He lunged forward and tried to grab Andrew’s foot from underneath the fence.”
Cussons said that’s when Oberle was dragged halfway under the mesh fence, struggling for his life. The electric fences had no effect on the chimpanzees.
Oberle’s body became stuck halfway under the fence, forcing Nikki and Amadeus to push Oberle back out of their compound and into the public area. The two chimpanzees then escaped their compound using the hole made by Oberle’s body, grabbing and dragging him for nearly 100 feet.
Cussons said the two chimpanzees continued to maul Oberle for at least 12 minutes before Cussons himself was able to force the animals into submission by shooting Nikki in the abdomen.
Oberle was recently transferred from a South African hospital to Saint Louis University Hospital in Saint Louis, Mo., his family said. He was placed into a medically-induced coma after the attack but no information has been provided about his current condition.
Nikki is recovering from his gunshot wound and will return to Chimpanzee Eden. Cussons said both Nikki and Amadeus will be studied before fully being reintroduced to their family group. They will not be euthanized.
Watch the full story Friday on ABC’s 20/20: When Animals Strike Back at 10 p.m. ET
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Susan Scutti, CNN
Andreas Preuss, CNN
Lorenzo Ferrigno, CNN
Lauren del Valle, CNN