When it comes to primates, there are arguably few people more respected than Jane Goodall. A British primatologist dedicated to the study of chimpanzees, Goodall has spent much of her life getting up close and personal with animals that are closely related to humans. It's no wonder, then, that Goodall had something to say about Harambe, the 17-year-old western lowland gorilla who was shot and killed at the Cincinnati Zoo Saturday.
In the incident, a young boy fell into the gorilla's enclosure. For about 10 minutes, the boy remained inside the exhibit with the gorilla. During that time, Harambe picked up the child, dragged him, and stood over him. The zoo's response team eventually elected to shoot the large male gorilla with a rifle to ensure the safety of the child. Harambe, a member of a critically endangered species, was killed.
Over the weekend, the Cincinnati Zoo expressed its devastation over the incident. Thane Maynard, the zoo's director, justified the response team's decision to shoot Harambe, saying, "The idea of waiting and shooting it with a [tranquilizer] was not a good idea." The tranquilizer would have taken longer to have an effect, and could have alarmed the gorilla further.
On Wednesday, Goodall sent Maynard a brief email on the subject of Harambe. She seemed to level with Maynard, as she appeared to show an understanding of the situation and the difficult choice that the zoo had to make. "I feel so sorry for you, having to try to defend something which you may well disapprove of," she wrote.
At the same time, Goodall offered her own interpretation of the situation, likely based on videos of the encounter released since Saturday. "I tried to see exactly what was happening — it looked to me as though the gorilla was putting an arm round the child," she wrote. Although particularly intimidating in the wild, gorillas in captivity have been known as relatively nonthreatening toward humans.
Finally, Goodall wondered about the gorillas remaining in the zoo's care:
Anyway, whatever, it is a devastating loss to the zoo, and the gorillas. How did the others react? Are they allowed to see, and express grief, which seems to be so important.
Aside from the email, which was released by the Jane Goodall Institute on Wednesday, the famed primatologist has not spoken publicly about the incident. She remains an important symbol of global conservation efforts, though, which makes her commentary valuable during such situations. Goodall is perhaps best known for immersing herself in the world of chimpanzees by studying them in the field in Africa from a young age.