Chimp attack victim awake, communicating

A graduate student from St. Louis who was severely injured in a chimp attack at a refuge in South Africa is now awake and communicating, his doctor said Thursday.

Saint Louis University chief of plastic surgery Dr. Bruce Kraemer said Andrew Oberle Jr. has had three surgeries since arriving at the hospital less than two weeks ago.

Speaking at a news conference, Kraemer said Oberle, 26, had injuries all over his body, but reports that he had lost an arm were inaccurate, though he did lose fingers.

Oberle was mauled by chimpanzees on June 28 while giving a tour at the Jane Goodall Institute's Chimpanzee Eden SA. He was working there as part of his graduate program — he is a student studying anthropology at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Two chimps attacked Oberle, pulling him under a fence and dragging him about a half-mile. The refuge said it was the first attack since the center opened six years ago.

Oberle was kept in a medically induced coma until his return to St. Louis.

Kraemer said Oberle "has a very strong spirit. His attitude is phenomenal."

But Oberle faces a long recovery and may be treated with new technologies in regenerative medicine and prosthetics, Kraemer said.

Oberle's mother, Mary Flint, gave a brief statement in which she thanked doctors and staff at the hospital, along with relatives, friends "and all the wonderful people from all over the world who have kept Andy and all of us in their prayers and for helping us with donations for his care."

The donations have mostly been made through a website, .

Refuge officials reintroduced the animals at the center in late July, under careful supervision. Amadeus, the alpha male, had been held in solitary confinement since the attack. Nikki was shot in the abdomen and leg after the attack, and was transferred from the Johannesburg Zoo to back to the refuge.