Over the weekend, social media was rocked by the death of Harambe, a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo, who was shot and killed after a young boy crawled into his enclosure. As mud slings between animal rights activists and supporters of the zoo's decision to shoot the animal, you might be wondering: How old was Harambe? The western lowland gorilla, who moved to the Cincinnati Zoo in 2014, had turned 17 just two days prior to the incident.
In a statement following the incident, the Cincinnati Zoo said they are "heartbroken" over the loss, but asserted that emergency responders' quick decision to shoot Harambe saved the boy's life. The zoo's decision is has garnered criticism, but director Thayne Maynard said they'd make the same call if it were to happen again. As the days have passed, vitriol has been spewed at the child's parents, as many blame his mother for Harambe's death. No matter what side of the fence people fall on, it's safe to say that these events are tragic.
Harambe's story recalls a similar incident from 18 years ago, in which a three-year-old child fell into the enclosure of another western lowland gorilla in Illinois. That incident had a vastly different outcome: The gorilla, a female named Binti Jua, saved the child, carrying him to safety after he fell into the enclosure.
This was three years before Harambe's birth in captivity at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas in 1999. Jerry Stones, the trainer who raised Harambe since birth, said he has been in tears since Harambe's death. Stones told The Cincinnati Enquirer childhood stories about Harambe, from the time he used a long stick to turn off the lights in his exhibit to the way he would splash water on zookeepers. "He was like one of my sons. He was beautiful and a true character — so mischievous and not aggressive," Stones said.
The tragic death of Harambe and the firestorm of opinions surrounding it have brought tons of publicity to animal rights issues. As mourners hold memorial vigils for Harambe and create Facebook groups and petitions, while others caution against the often-racist rage against the parents of the boy who fell into his enclosure, it's important to remember the life of this gorilla. It's not just another trending social justice feud.