Harambe is the 17-year-old Gorilla who was shot to death at the Cincinnati Zoo on Saturday, 28 May 2016, after a 3-year-old child was able to bypass the zoo’s “security system” and his parent’s “vigilant care” to fall 12-feet into the Gorilla World exhibit. Evidently, the zoo’s Dangerous Animal Response Team, after observing the gorilla’s behavior, deemed it to be a life-threatening situation and decided that it was necessary to kill the gorilla to save the boy. Harambe was senselessly killed the day after his 17th birthday. The child was released from the hospital just hours after his fall in the enclosure, and his family stated that he is “doing just fine”.
Mountain Gorillas at Cincinnati Zoo
Harambe was a silverback Western Lowland Gorilla, critically endangered in its native African nations because of senseless poaching and loss of critical habitat by, of course, humans. After watching video footage of Harambe with the toddler, which is freely available on the internet, it is evident that Harambe was NOT acting dangerously with the child. At one point, Harambe stands the child up and gently holds his hand. Harambe does grab the child and quickly moves from place to place several times. In the videos, the crowd of spectators sound frightened, which appears to spook Harambe. The child had been with the gorilla for 10-15 minutes and remained unharmed. The use of lethal weapons did not seem warranted. Why did zoo officials assume the gorilla was going to hurt the little boy?
Mountain Gorilla Biology
It appears that the zoo’s Dangerous Animal Response Team did not take into account scientific research on the nature and behavior of gorillas. Research primatologists, including Dian Fossey, have demonstrated that gorillas are gentle, intelligent beings. A valid assumption from watching the video is that Harambe appeared to be helping and protecting the child. And, unlike the carnivorous behaviors of lions, tigers and other predators, gorillas are VEGETARIANS! Under natural conditions, gorillas spend much of their time foraging for fruits and veggies. They do not eat humans, even as a delicacy. Harambe had no intentions of eating the child, so the assumption that he would naturally want to kill the boy was illogical and scientifically unsupported.
Interspecies Acts of Kindness
Harambe was presumed guilty and never given a chance. In Harambe’s mind, he may have been trying to help save and protect the child (possibly from parents who would allow their child to fall 12 feet into a gorilla enclosure). Acts of kindness between different species are not rare occurrences, but observed all the time. Other species can demonstrate amazing kindness and sympathy. This innocent animal paid the ultimate price with his life, and no one gave Harambe a chance to prove himself.
The Tranquilizer Excuse
The assumption that the tranquilizer COULD cause the gorilla to become agitated is correct. However, the tranquilizer COULD also have caused the gorilla to respond differently, like run away or just sit and fall asleep. But we will never know because zoo officials did not give the gorilla and tranquiller a chance. If the tranquilizer had worked, everyone would be safe and alive, and the zoo would be praised for its intelligence and humanity. If the tranquilizer had not worked, the rifle would have had the same deadly result, even if the gorilla became agitated, and the zoo would be seen as heroes. Now that Harambe is dead, even though video after video demonstrates that he was not acting aggressively towards the child, the zoo officials look foolish, irrational and potential accomplices to a crime of inhumanity.
Kathryn R. Gubista, PhD is an evolutionary biologist, former zoo-keeper and certified professional dog trainer (CPDT-KA) with Lucky Dog Training Asheville. The Dog’s Perspective is a training philosophy based on how dogs think.