Harambe’s Death Anniversary: The Gorilla Died 5 Years Ago Today

harambe death anniversary

Getty Flowers lay around a bronze statue of a gorilla and her baby outside the Cincinnati Zoo's Gorilla World exhibit days after a 3-year-old boy fell into the moat and officials were forced to kill Harambe, a 17-year-old Western lowland silverback gorilla June 2, 2016, in Cincinnati, Ohio.

It has been five years since the death of Harambe, the gorilla who became a social media icon. Officials at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden made the decision to fatally shoot Harambe after a 3-year-old boy fell into his enclosure May 28, 2016, according to a statement from the zoo.

Harambe turned 17 the day before he died, and he had been a resident at the zoo for less than a year, according to statements from the Cincinnati Zoo. Harambe was a Western lowland silverback, who was transferred from the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas to the Cincinnati Zoo when he was 16, according to the zoo’s Harambe archives.

Here’s what you need to know:


Harambe Would Have Celebrated His 22nd Birthday May 26, 2021

The day before Harambe died, zoo officials wrote a happy birthday message to him on Facebook and shared his photo.

“Please wish Harambe a Happy 17th Birthday today!” the zoo’s Facebook account wrote on May 27, 2016.

The post turned into a collection of memorials beginning the next day, and continuing for years.

“HBD, Big Guy..! RIP” one person wrote.

Some expressed anger that he was killed, while others came to support the decision to shoot the gorilla and save a child.

“This was a beautiful gorilla no doubt about it,” wrote one person. “But at the end of everything the zoo is more thankful that they didt (sic) have a dead child on their hands. Everyone should at least give the respect to the Zoo for doing their job at the end of the day their job is to protect all zoo members on their property at any cost. You maybe mad at the decision but at least we know that they will actually save any one of our life’s even if a animal is at a lower population. #ripharambe.”

Harambe would have been 22 today. Gorillas can live up to 40 years in the wild, according to the World Wildlife Federation. They are considered infants until they are 3 1/2 years old, then they are called “blackbacks” from ages 8 to 12, WWF said.

“Then from 12 years old, they develop a silver section of hair over their back and hips, earning them the name ‘silverback,” WWF wrote.


Harambe Was Placed With 2 ‘Self-Assured’ Female Gorillas to Help Him Develop Social Skills in His Move to Cincinnati

Harambe had moved from Texas to Ohio in the year before he died, according to a statement from the Cincinnati Zoo. Zoo officials chose strategically where to place him, deciding on placing him in a group with females “Chewie” and “Mara,” the statement said.

Also in the larger gorilla group was 23-year-old male “Jomo,” who was considered the leader, zoo officials said.

“In the other gorillas’ eyes, Jomo is still the man and Harambe is yet to establish himself. He’s a rookie silverback in camp for spring training,” said Ron Evans, Curator of Primates at the Cincinnati Zoo, in the statement.

Evans further explained the placement and how it would aid Harambe’s development.

“At 16, Harambe is a young silverback learning his role as a future leader. He got too old to fit in at his natal institution and, like wild gorillas, had to leave the area to find his own way. Matching him up with the socially-savvy Chewie and Mara is a good step in his development. It’s important to have self-assured females as Harambe transitions from teenager to confident and well-balanced silverback. He demonstrates intelligence and curiosity, using sticks and things to reach for items outside his grasp,” he said in the statement.

A statement from the zoo detailed the incident leading up to the shooting, saying a child climbed through a public barrier, fell 15 feet and landed in a moat containing a foot of water. Zoo officials said they were “in mourning” after the shooting. They wrote that tranquilizing the 450-pound gorilla was not an option because it takes several minutes for tranquilizers to take effect, and the child was in immediate danger.

“We are heartbroken about losing Harambe, but a child’s life was in danger and a quick decision had to be made by our Dangerous Animal Response Team,” said Zoo Director Thane Maynard in the statement. “Our first response was to call the gorillas out of the exhibit. The two females complied, but Harambe did not. It is important to note that with the child still in the exhibit, tranquilizing the 450-pound gorilla was not an option. Tranquilizers do not take effect for several minutes and the child was in imminent danger. On top of that, the impact from the dart could agitate the animal and cause the situation to get much worse.”

READ NEXT: Harambe Memes: The Internet Says ‘RIP’ on the Date of His Death


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