World-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall sent an email to Thane Maynard, the director of the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, after a 17-year-old gorilla named Harambe was killed in order to protect a 4-year-old boy who had climbed onto a fence and fell into the gorilla’s enclosure. The email, which the Inquisitr reported on earlier and was released to the public by the Jane Goodall Institute, offered more than Goodall’s professional opinion on the mindset of the gorilla at the time he was shot and killed.
Goodall asked Maynard, “How did the others react? Are they allowed to see, and express grief, which seems to be so important?”
— World Animal News (@WorldAnimalNews) June 3, 2016
Dr. Goodall, who made her concern over the very difficult situation and for the feelings of the zoo staff, also expressed concern over the gorilla’s fellow zoo-mates, Country Living reported. Dr. Scott Suarez, a primatologist at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, shared similar concerns about Harambe’s grieving primate companions. He says that the other gorillas at the zoo who were close to him are likely to experience stress, depression, and infighting, especially among the female gorillas.
“The gorillas naturally in the wild live in a social system in which there is one adult male, sometimes a younger sibling. The adult male we call a silverback and the younger one we call a blackback. And then [there’s] a group of unrelated females and those females typically bond very strongly with the male,” Suarez explained in an interview with a WCPO journalist. “Very likely, in the beginning, stress. I know that animals feel grief at the loss of other individuals and if an animal disappears and is gone for a while, certainly depression and sadness would be a big part of it.”
Zoo director Thane Maynard said that the other gorillas have been looking for Harambe and that two female gorillas were probably going to need to be sent to other zoos. Suarez says that it is a good thing that the other gorillas did not actually witness Harambe getting shot by the zoo’s emergency response team. He says that that would have significantly damaged the relationship between them and the zoo’s staff.
Harambe was a Western lowland gorilla. They have a complex social structure that primatologists are still learning about, but they do know that gorillas, in general, suffer grief when a member of their family or social circle passes away.
An older story about a different gorilla in a zoo in Germany demonstrated the degree of emotional connection that these primates are capable of. An 11-year-old gorilla named Gana suddenly and tragically lost her 3-month-old baby. The baby died in her arms from an apparent heart defect. Gana stroked her baby and shook the baby gently for hours until she finally concluded that her efforts were in vain. Still, she would not even let zookeepers near her baby, because she refused to let her baby’s body go.
Reportedly, in the wild, a gorilla mother can even refuse to part with her baby’s body for weeks after it has died while she actively mourns. Gorillas often keep the bodies of their loved ones close until it begins to decompose. Gorillas have even been seen practicing a burial act, where they cover the bodies of their dead with leaves.
Similarly, at Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo, a terminally ill female gorilla named Bebe was euthanized. Her close gorilla friend of many years, named Bobby, was allowed by zookeepers to visit her body. Initially, he tried to revive her, even placing celery, which he knew was her favorite food, into her hand. When it finally hit him that Bebe was gone, he suddenly wailed and started banging on the bars of his cage, according to the New York Post.
Initial reports from the zoo that the other gorillas were just resting and looking for Harambe aren’t necessarily the totality of emotions the other gorillas will face, primatologists like Goodall believe. Goodall also recognized the suffering of the humans in his life too.
Jerry Stones, the facilities director for the Gladys Porter Zoo in Texas, actually raised Harambe. Stones began caring for him when the ape was just 3-weeks-old, People reported. Stones said he was “devastated” to learn that the silverback that he once diapered and fed had been killed.
“It’s hard to believe he’s gone,” he said. “I know it’s crazy to think somebody would be that touched by these animals but they’re so so special.”
— People Magazine (@people) June 2, 2016
Stones believes that the other gorillas will grieve but disagrees that this loss will be as destructive to their emotional stability as other experts have stated.
“I’ve been around gorillas that have had losses in their troupe and they stay quiet for a few days but they’re okay.”
For himself, though, he says the loss of the animal is like losing a family member. A memorial fund has been set up by the zoo where Stones works. The funds raised in honor of Harambe will be transferred to the Mbeli Bai Study, a conservation program for the Western lowland gorillas of the African north-western Congo Basin.
“Harambe means ‘pull together’ in Swahili and this is the chance for everyone to pull together and help these animals,” Stones said. “All we can do is try to take his terrible, terrible death and turn it around by giving his family a chance at a future.”
[Photo by Francois Mori/AP Images File]