JOHANNESBURG – Chimpanzees at a sanctuary for the animals in eastern South Africa pulled an American working there into their enclosure, bit him severely and dragged him nearly a half mile, according to a paramedic official and local media reports.
The man was leading a tour group at the Jane Goodall Institute Chimpanzee Eden near Nelspruit, some 180 miles from Johannesburg, Thursday when two chimpanzees grabbed his feet and pulled him under a fence into their enclosure, Jeffrey Wicks of the Netcare911 medical emergency services company said in a statement obtained by The Associated Press on Friday.
Mediclinic Nelspruit, the hospital where he was taken, said Friday he was in intensive care in critical condition after undergoing surgery Thursday.
The man had "multiple and severe bite wounds" and was dragged nearly a kilometer by the chimpanzees, Wicks said.
Beeld, a South African newspaper, reported Friday that the man was an American researcher who was giving tourists a lecture at the time of the attack. The tourists were escorted to safety by staff members as the chimpanzees dragged the man out of their enclosure, Beeld reported. The sanctuary's director fired into the air to scare the chimps away from the man, and then chased the animals back into their enclosure. Beeld reported the man lost part of an ear and parts of his fingers.
The Associated Press did not immediately get responses to phone calls and an email seeking comment from officials at the institute and its sanctuary.
The international institute founded by renowned primatologist Jane Goodall opened the sanctuary in 2006. It is a home to chimpanzees, which are not native to South Africa, rescued from further north in Africa. Some of the chimpanzees at the sanctuary lost their parents to poachers in countries where they are hunted for their meat, and others were held in captivity in cruel conditions as little more than roadside attractions.
In the United States this week, lawyers for a Connecticut woman who was attacked in 2009 by a friend's chimpanzee filed papers accusing state officials of failing to seize the animal before the mauling despite a staff member's warning that it was dangerous. The chimpanzee ripped off the woman's nose, lips, eyelids and hands before being killed by police, and the woman was blinded and has had a face transplant.