JOHANNESBURG — In the six years he’s managed a sanctuary for abused and orphaned chimpanzees, South African conservationist Eugene Cussons is from time to time called on to comment when an ape somewhere in the world attacks a human. Cussons says he always could pinpoint a moment of taunting or perceived aggression that could have set off the quick and powerful animals.
This time, though, the attack was at his own Jane Goodall Institute Chimpanzee Eden in South Africa. And Cussons, host of the Animal Planet show “Escape to Chimp Eden,” is without an explanation.
In telephone interview Saturday, Cussons said he would have to wait until the severely injured victim, a University of Texas at San Antonio graduate student inspired by famed primatologist Jane Goodall to study chimps, was well enough to provide details about Thursday’s attack.
It was the first such attack since Cussons, working with Goodall’s renowned international institute, converted part of his family’s game farm into the sanctuary in 2006.
“You can train for it, you can do your best to prepare,” Cussons said. “But when it actually happens, it’s shocking and traumatic for everyone.”
Cussons’s team quickly evacuated the dozen tourists to whom Andrew F. Oberle had been giving a lecture and tried to separate the chimps from Oberle. In the end, Cussons, who was himself attacked by a chimp as he tried to pull it off Oberle, took the extreme step of firing into the air, scaring the animals away.