Johannesburg - It took three tranquilliser darts and a carefully planned operation to reunite the two chimpanzees that savagely attacked American primatologist Andrew Oberle.
Nikki’s journey to Mpumalanga began with the thud of a tranquilliser dart at Johannesburg Zoo on Saturday morning.
Amadeus, the alpha male of the group, didn’t have so far to travel – he just had to be moved from a quarantined section at the Jane Goodall Institute’s Chimp Eden in Mbombela, Mpumalanga, to an enclosure where the rest of his family group were.
For a month, Nikki had been treated at Johannesburg Zoo for a gunshot wound to his abdomen and a leg.
He was shot on June 28 so that medical personnel could get to Oberle.
The bullet pierced his abdomen and lodged in his leg.
The chimp had to be rushed to Joburg, where a team of trauma surgeons and vets performed emergency surgery.
Two weeks ago, the bullet was removed after Nikki’s wound became infected.
Finally, at about 7.30am on Saturday, a sedated Nikki was carried into a well-secured crate on a bakkie.
“Before driving we had to make sure he was fully awake,” said vet Katja Koeppel.
She feared a sedated chimp could be injured during the drive.
Also making the trip to Mbombela with Nikki was Katherine Visser, the primate curator at Johannesburg Zoo. The two women were responsible for Nikki’s stay at the zoo.
Along the way, motorists stared in amazement at Nikki’s long fingers poking through the holes in the crate.
Nikki arrived at Chimp Eden just after 1pm. There, he was darted for a second time.
As the crate was opened, Koeppel had to make sure he was properly sedated.
She poked him a couple of times with a stick.
“You will be surprised at how quick these chimps can be,” said David Oosthuizen, executive director of the Jane Goodall Institute.
If something did go wrong, the team from The Star had been told to dash to one of the cars and “lock yourselves in”.
Procedure is that cars have to be kept unlocked.
Nikki was carried to one of the rooms in the enclosure. With the door locked, they waited for him to come around.
Then it was Amadeus’s turn. He had been kept on his own since the attack.
Working with Amadeus was more difficult. He is believed to weigh 80kg – a big chimp.
Sedated, he was placed in the room next to Nikki. The plan is to allow the two to become reacquainted.
They are best friends, according to Oosthuizen.
“Even though they know each other, there is a risk they might fight,” he said.
In a little while, both alpha male and his right-hand man were groggily hanging on the wire mesh window that separates them and were talking and touching one another.
“Now that is a good sign,” said Marc Cronjé, a sanctuary guide.
The plan is to open the door between the two rooms over the next few days and to see how the two react with one another.
The process of rehabilitation is likely to take months, and in that time the sanctuary will remain closed.
Oberle is still at Netcare Milpark Hospital in
Joburg. He lost several fingers, toes and a testicle during the attack. His family are not releasing any details about his health. - The Star