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Jane Goodall Responds to Harambe's Death: 'It Looked as Though the Gorilla Was Putting an Arm Around the Child'

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The Jane Goodall Institute is sharing an email the famed primatologist sent to Thane Maynard, director of the Cincinnati Zoo, following the death of Harambe.

On Saturday, the 17-year-old Western lowland silverback gorilla was shot and killed after a 4-year-old boy fell 15 feet from the railing of the animal’s exhibit and into the enclosure. Video shows Harambe grabbing the child and taking him around the enclosure while onlookers, including the boy’s mother, watched in horror and screamed at the primate and young child.

“The idea of waiting and shooting it with a hypodermic was not a good idea,” Maynard said at a press conference Monday, as to why the zoo chose to shoot the animal with bullets instead of tranquilizer darts. “That would have definitely created alarm in the male gorilla. When you dart an animal, anesthetic doesn’t work in one second, it works over a period of a few minutes to 10 minutes. The risk was due to the power of that animal.”

In her email to the director — starting with “Dear Thane”— on Harambe’s death, Goodall says, “I feel so sorry for you, having to try to defend something which you may well disapprove of.”

And while Maynard has defended the actions taken by the zoo, stating they were necessary because the powerful animal was “acting erratically” and was “disoriented,” Goodall’s email seems to suggest there could’ve been an alternative. 

“It looked as though the gorilla was putting an arm round the child — like the female who rescued and returned the child from the Chicago exhibit,” she writes. 

Goodall is most likely referring to Binti Jua, a female gorilla at the Brookfield Zoo, who, in 1996, picked up and cradled a child who fell into her enclosure, ultimately delivering the boy to keepers waiting at the exhibit’s service door.

Director of the Yerkes National Primate Research Living Links Center at Emory University and fellow primatologist Frans de Waal also stated that he noticed a lack of violence in the animal’s action, writing on Facebook: “Harambe was mostly protective. He showed a combination of protection and confusion. He stood over the child, held him up, moved/dragged him through the water (at least once very roughly), stood over him again. Much of his reaction may have been triggered by public noise and yelling.”

Goodall does not explore the issue any further, instead changing subjects and asking how the other gorillas living with Harambe have reacted to the animal’s death. As extremely social creatures, gorillas have been known to mourn the loss of other gorillas close to them.

“Are they allowed to see, and express grief, which seems to be so important,” she asks before ending her email with the signature, “Feeling for you.”

When asked for more commentary, The Jane Goodall Institute replied that both the Institute and Jane Goodall are currently refraining from making additional statements outside the email.