In 1986, I was lucky enough to be part of the Administration Team at The Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust, now known as The Durrell Wildlife Park. On 30th August that year, 5-year-old Levan Merritt was lifted on to the wall of the Lowland Gorilla enclosure and fell 20 feet on to concrete.
The giant silverback, Jambo, stood over the unconscious Levan and in my mind, as well as in many others, he was protecting Levan from the younger and more boisterous members of his family. When Levan regained consciousness, he started to cry, which frightened the gorilla family and they ran away. Some say Jambo led them into their inside enclosure which allowed the keepers in to assist Ambulanceman, Brian Fox, jump down into the enclosure. Levan was tied to Brian Fox with a rope and then they were both hauled out over the wall.
So, what went so drastically wrong in Cincinnati Zoo last weekend which resulted in Harambe a 17-year-old silverback male gorilla being shot dead after a 3-year-old child allegedly crawled into the enclosure then fell into the moat?
I see from their website that Cincinatti Zoo are in the process of raising money to build a bigger and better gorilla facility. So was this enclosure flawed in some way? It does raise a big question about how the child gained access to the enclosure, unsupervised or not. That said, all children when being taken to such a facility should be under strict supervision by their parents. Zoos are not adventure playgrounds.
Social Media is running rampant about whether or not Cincinnati Zoo had the right to shoot this beautiful and endangered animal. Harambe may or may not have been protecting this child but he was dragging him perilously close to concrete. We know that if Harambe had been tranquilized the drug would have taken a few minutes to kick in and what if there had been a split second tragedy as the boy’s head had fatally collided with the concrete? What would the critics have had to say about Cincinnati Zoo then?
Whichever way you look at it, the outcome is bittersweet and heartbreakingly so for the majestic Harambe.