Saturday, a child’s accidental encounter with Harambe, one of the Cincinnati Zoo’s silverback gorillas, ended with the animal being shot. While controversy continues to brew about the child’s mother, Michelle Gregg and the zoo’s decision to shoot – rather than tranquilize – the animal, there’s more to learn about Harambe and his species.
1. Harambe was born and raised in captivity
Harambe was born and raised at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas by Jerry Stones, a 50-year-old veteran of the zoo business. “An old man can cry, too,” Stones, 74, told the New York Daily News Sunday. “He was a special guy in my life. Harambe was my heart. It’s like losing a member of the family.”
2. He came to Cincinnati in 2015
Harambe arrived at the Cincinnati Zoo in April 2015 at 16 and joined a social group with two 19-year-old females, Chewie and Mara. Ron Evans, Curator of Primates at the Cincinnati Zoo, described Harambe’s integration as “spring training,” saying that Harambe was “learning his role as a future leader. He got too old to fit in at his natal institution, and like wild gorillas, had to leave the area to find his own way.”
3. The zoo had wanted to use Harambe to breed
Harambe was one of ten western lowland silverback gorillas at the Cincinnati Zoo. “He was a youngster and just starting to grow up,” Zoo Director Thane Maynard told The Washington Post. “And there was hopes to breed him. He was not quite of breeding maturity yet. But it’ll be a loss to the gene pool of lowland gorillas.”
4. Western lowland gorillas are critically endangered
Though the western lowland gorilla is the most numerous and widespread of gorilla subspecies, according to the World Wildlife Foundation, they are classified as a critically endangered species. Poaching and disease have caused the population, which is spread across central Africa, to drop over 60 percent over the last quarter-century. The WWF estimates that even if all of the threats to western lowland gorillas were removed, it would take about 75 years for the numbers to recover. Last year, the Cincinnati Zoo wrote that there were about 765 gorillas in zoos worldwide and pegged the western lowland gorilla’s wild population at about 175,000.
5. Poaching and habitat destruction are the greatest threats to gorillas in the wild
Logging, mining and agriculture expansion all chip away at gorilla habitats across Africa. Poaching is also a major threat, with one unpleasant twist: In Africa, the “bushmeat” trade – wild animals like gorillas and elephants being killed for human consumption – is a significant threat to gorillas. The Cincinnati Zoo estimated in 2015 that over 1,000 gorillas are poached yearly for the bushmeat “industry.”