IT TOOK a combined team of trauma surgeons, from Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, and veterinarians to save the life of one of the chimpanzees that savagely attacked American student Andrew Oberle.
Nikki, a 17-year-old chimp, suffered a gunshot wound to the abdomen during the June 28 attack and had to be rushed from Nelspruit in Mpumalanga to the Joburg zoo.
Now as Oberle lies in Netcare’s Milpark hospital in a critical condition, Nikki is recovering at the nearby zoo.
Nikki is on Valium for pain and veterinarians are monitoring him closely, checking for signs of infection.
So far the chimp is doing well and eating, said vet, Dr Stephen van der Spuy, who is charged with looking after Nikki.
The savage attack occurred at the Jane Goodall Institute Chimpanzee Eden in Nelspruit last month, leaving three victims, according to David Oosthuizen.
One was Oberle, who was severely mauled, and the two animals he believes acted because of their traumatic upbringing and typical chimp behaviour.
“Andrew was just so special to the institute. He loved the chimps and we hope one day he can come back,” said Oosthuizen, who is the executive director of the Jane Goodall Institute of SA.
The two chimps, Amadeus and Nikki, were bush meat orphans and Nikki had an unusual upbringing.
“When Nikki arrived he was wearing a luxury watch and the clothes of a little boy.
‘He had been raised as a human, which negatively affected him,” said Oosthuizen.
Last week the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Board, after an investigation, decided the two chimps had acted like any threatened wild animal and would not be euthanised.
“If they had done this, it would have been a sad ending to a tragic life,” said Oosthuizen.
Nikki was shot shortly after he and Amadeus, the alpha male of the group, attacked Oberle.
Witnesses said Oberle, 26, a post-graduate student in anthropology and primatology, climbed through a fence surrounding the chimp enclosure. The two chimps pulled him through a second fence.
“Nikki is Amadeus’s second in command. When they saw Andrew in their territory they saw him as a threat, and they decided that they needed to eliminate that threat,” explained Oosthuizen.
In the attack Oberle lost an ear, several fingers, toes and a testicle.
“A chimpanzee attack is frenzied. For instance, if a guerilla attacks you, it will hit you once, then leave you. A chimp wants to eliminate the threat, so every time Andrew moved they would attack him again,” Oosthuizen said.
Nikki was shot through the windscreen of a vehicle, after he had failed to respond to several warning shots. “They had to shoot him to save Andrew’s life,” Oosthuizen said.
The bullet, Van der Spuy said, entered Nikki’s abdomen just below the chest, then travelled down, becoming lodged in his left hip.
Van der Spuy was in Joburg when he heard of the incident and rushed to Nelspruit.
When he arrived there Nikki was tranquilised and loaded into Van der Spuy’s car.
A call was made to the Joburg zoo, to see if the chimp could be taken there for emergency treatment and a team of surgeons – experts in dealing with gunshot wounds – were also mobilised.
“We drove Nikki back to Johannesburg, stopping regularly to check on him,” said van der Spuy.
They got to the Joburg zoo about 4.30am on Friday and Nikki was rushed into the theatre.
The combined team of trauma surgeons and veterinarians spent four hours closing holes in Nikki’s small and large intestines and removing dead tissue.
“We didn’t remove the bullet, we don’t believe it will affect his mobility,” said Van der Spuy.
Nikki’s right leg was X-rayed because he appeared to have a limp, but nothing was found to be wrong.