Levan Merritt was just 5-years-old when he fell into a gorilla enclosure at the Jersey Zoo. The tiny boy was temporarily knocked unconscious and lay helpless in the pit as the gorillas circled around the young boy. However, what could have been a tragic event turned into a heartwarming story after a male silverback named Jambo stepped in to protect the child.
The gorilla could be seen stroking the child’s back as he kept the other gorillas from approaching the injured child. As Merritt began to stir, Jambo directed the other gorillas into their indoor enclosure as rescue crews dropped in to retrieve the child. Now, 30 years later, Levan is speaking about how the incredible event shaped his life and drew him closer to the zoo.
The Daily Mail reports that 5-year-old Levan Merritt was visiting the Jersey Zoo with his family when he accidentally fell 20 feet into the gorilla enclosure. The impact of the fall broke Levan’s arm and fractured his skull while knocking him momentarily unconscious. As zoo-goers and Levan’s family looked on in horror, the numerous gorillas in the enclosure approached the injured child. However, one gorilla, a male silverback named Jambo, immediately took to protecting the child from the other gorillas. The massive creature stood over the boy and even stroked his back. When young Merritt began to move again, the male gorilla ushered the other gorillas into their indoor enclosure.
However, as the gates on the indoor gorilla enclosure began to shut, one of the younger male gorillas named Hobbit began to rush out of the doors towards the child. Knowing time was limited, an ambulanceman and two zookeepers rushed in to save the child. The ambulanceman tied a rope on himself and the child as people at the top of the enclosure pulled them up. The child was then taken to the hospital and treated for his injuries. Levan would require a six-week stay in the hospital.
Levan says he tried not to let the event affect him, but he was bullied and teased at school after the video of the rescue made its way into the media spotlight. He says he was called “Tarzan” and “gorilla boy” by his classmates but says that he tried to shrug off all the remarks. However, he says the event did impress his now-wife, Amanda. He says his wife was “impressed” by the whole ordeal.
“She was first told by my friends a few months after we got together and she didn’t believe them and thought they were winding her up, until I told her. She was shocked and thought it was incredible. Shortly after, we were round her house and it was on TV and she thought I was a TV celebrity which was quite amusing.”
Despite the horrifying event that could have left Levan terrified of gorillas and the zoo as a whole, the now-35-year-old man says the incident spearheaded a love of the zoo and animals. He says after his recovery his family was invited back to the zoo, and they went. Since then, Levan says he has remained in close ties with the zoo and was honored to be able to cut the ribbon to celebrate the installment of a bronze statue of Jambo following the gorilla’s death. Levan says he will forever be grateful for what Jambo did that day at the gorilla pit.
“I am forever thankful to Jambo as obviously it could have gone one or two ways. It was amazing how he protected me in that way. I was pleased to be involved when the statue was put up of him in the zoo.”
Levan says he also returned to the Jersey Zoo on the 20th anniversary of the horrifying fall to be reunited with the ambulanceman, Brian Fox, who dropped in to save him that terrifying day. Levan says that Jambo and the Jersey Zoo forever changed his life and that he is thankful Jambo was there that day to act as his guardian gorilla.
[Image via YouTube Screenshot]