Zookeeper speaks about his sadness over gorilla's death

Gorilla Who Was Shot Dead Was Not Aggressive Says Texas Zookeeper Jerry Stones

Harambe, the 17-year-old lowland gorilla, was shot dead at the Cincinnati Zoo on Saturday. His Texas zookeeper is mourning the loss of the animal he helped raise from birth and who he remembers as “never aggressive or mean.”
The director for the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, Jerry Stones, raised Harambe from the time he was only 3-weeks-old. Stones spoke with People on the subject and remembers how he cared for the young gorilla when his own mother gave up on him.

“When he was little his mama gave up on him at 21 days old. I ended up taking him home that night and many nights after that. I’d feed him and change his diapers just like you would a human baby.”

The zookeeper remembers Harambe fondly, noting that he was a “character” and “just a neat little guy to be around.”

Stones went on to comment on Harambe’s temperament that he says was not at all concerning.

“He was very playful and always running around with the others. He was never aggressive or mean to people.”

Although Stones said Harambe did not appear to be aggressive, he did share that he stopped entering the enclosure in which the gorilla lived at the point he reached 7 years of age. The reason for this is that at this point, gorillas reach a maturity and a size that makes them unsafe to engage with, as Stones explained.

“The deal is they play rough. Once they get to over 100 pounds, if they smack your legs out from underneath you or grab you by the leg and drag you around they’re just playing, but you will get hurt. So you stop going in their enclosures because if they play rough and you get hurt, that would be your fault.”

Jerry Stones went on to share that he cannot comment on the zoo’s choice to shoot the gorilla he cared for, after Harambe grabbed a 4-year-old boy who had slipped into the gorilla’s enclosure. He does share that he was “devastated” to hear the news of the shooting.

“It’s hard to believe he’s gone. I know it’s crazy to think somebody would be that touched by these animals but they’re so so special.”

The highly intelligent creatures display emotions much like humans, including sadness and depression. Stones relays that he believes that the gorillas remaining at the Cincinnati Zoo could experience depression since the death of their friend.

“They’ll handle it just fine. I’ve been around gorillas that have had losses in their troupe and they stay quiet for a few days but they’re okay.”

Although the creatures do display human characteristics, Stones reminds that they are still gorillas and need to be allowed to live as they naturally are.

“They do some things that are human-like but they aren’t human. They’re very intelligent but we need to let them be gorillas.”

The gorilla was first sent to the zoo, at which it was shot, in September, 2014, with the hopes that he would breed with the female gorillas there. The Western lowland gorillas are endangered in the wild and there are only 765 like Harambe living in zoos worldwide.

For the purpose of breeding more Western lowland gorillas, following the shooting of Harambe, biologists extracted sperm from the animal for use in artificial insemination programs and genetic research. The zoo director, Than Maynard, shared that he believes “[t]here’s a future,” and that “it’s not the end of the gene pool.”

A fund has been set up by the Gladys Porter Zoo in memory of Harambe called the Harambe Fund to support gorilla research and conservation in Africa. Information about the fund can be found on the zoo’s website.

The name Harambe means “pull together” in Swahili, and represents the opportunity for all to come together in an effort to assist this species. Stones reflects on this.

“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 Jason Hoekema/Associated Press]