Harambe’s Caretaker Of 15 Years Shares Touching Memories Of The ‘Fun Loving’ Gorilla
Jerry Stones knew Harambe the gorilla better than anyone. He cared for him for 15 years, from birth until he was transferred from Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, to the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. It was hoped that the male silverback gorilla would breed and help increase the population of the endangered species. Tragically, 17-year-old Harambe was shot and killed over Memorial Day weekend when a toddler fell into the gorilla’s enclosure.
Stones told ABC News that he would take Harambe home with him at night when he was a baby. He said he had to get up with him at night to change his diaper and care for him ” just like you would a human baby.”
Harambe’s former caretaker described the gorilla as having a nurturing personality, saying, “He nurtured his siblings. He would carry them around.” Stones said this gentle trait was one reason he pushed to get Harambe into the breeding program in Cincinnati, “so that he could have a family.”
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Stones reminisced about his days caring for the beloved gorilla, saying Harambe was “like one of my sons.” He remembers Harambe as smart, playful, silly, and “not aggressive.” In an interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer, he described some of the games Harambe would play with the zookeepers and other gorillas in Texas.
“He was like one of my sons. He was beautiful and a true character — so mischievous and not aggressive. He would throw water on the female keepers before running back and hiding in the back of his exhibit like ‘Haha, I got you.’ He would take a keeper’s blanket and just run off. Very fun loving and so intelligent.”
The 74-year-old zoo facilities director went on to share early memories of young Harambe’s mischief. Stones said the then-20-pound gorilla would tease his zookeepers by climbing the enclosure walls in an effort to escape, knowing they would rush over to get him. When they didn’t, silly antics would ensue.
“He would climb the walls and try to escape, but the keepers would, of course, bring him down every time. Harambe was smart, he realized this was a game. If he climbed the wall and they didn’t rush over, he’d give them a look like ‘Come get me.’ Or, he’d clap his hands and fall backwards so they’d catch him.”
Even with all the fun, loving memories, Stones recognizes that gorillas like Harambe are extremely strong and potentially dangerous. He explained that while he was able to go into Haramabe’s cage without being attacked, it was possible the powerful gorilla could have killed him by accident simply due to his size and strength.
Harambe was shot and killed by the Cincinnati Zoo’s Dangerous Animal Response Team when the 450-pound gorilla grabbed the 3-year-old boy who fell into the moat around his enclosure. There has been a huge public outcry, including celebrities like Kaley Cuoco, against the zoo’s decision to kill Harambe.
Jerry Stones refuses to get involved in the controversy or blame anyone for Harambe’s death. He said without being at the scene when the gorilla was killed, it is not his place to comment.
“Ninety-nine percent of people, on both sides of the fence, pro or con, don’t have a clue what they’re talking about and I’m not going to comment on it. I wasn’t there and they weren’t either.”
Stones revealed that Harambe’s name means “pull together” in Swahili. He has started a crowdfunding campaign, Harambe Fund, in honor of Harambe’s death. He hopes that Harambe’s legacy will pull people together to help gorillas all over the world. Funds raised will benefit the Mbeli Bai Study, an organization that serves to protect lowland gorillas in the northwestern Congo basin, which are victims of poaching and loss of habitat.
The Gladys Porter Zoo released a heartfelt statement on Facebook Tuesday as they mourn the difficult loss of Harambe the gorilla.
“The loss of Harambe has deeply saddened the staff of the Gladys Porter Zoo. Each of us… those who raised him, those who cared for him daily, and those who simply admired him as he grew into a magnificent silverback… are dealing with his tragic loss in his or her own way. This unfortunate incident has deeply affected our colleagues in gorilla conservation across the globe, and has especially impacted the team at the Cincinnati Zoo. Our thoughts are with them at this time.”
The statement closes by saying, “Harambe was born on May 27, 1999. He was hand-raised by Gladys Porter Zoo staff.” Harambe left the Gladys Porter Zoo on September 18, 2014, for the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens as part of the breeding program for Western lowland gorillas.
[Photo by John Minchillo/AP Images]