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Jane Goodall: Harambe the Gorilla ‘Was Putting an Arm Around the Child’ Before He Was Killed

So sad. British primate expert Jane Goodall is wading into the heated debate over the shooting death of a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens on Saturday, May 28.

Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall

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In an email released by the Jane Goodall Institute on Tuesday, May 31, the anthropologist wrote to the zoo’s director, Thane Maynard, about the incident that unfolded when a 4-year-old boy fell into the enclosure, leading zookeepers to shoot and kill a 17-year-old gorilla named Harambe.

“I feel so sorry for you, having to try to defend something which you may well disapprove of,” wrote the 82-year-old, who is considered the foremost expert on chimpanzees.

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“I tried to see exactly what was happening — it looked as though the gorilla was putting an arm around the child — like the female who rescued and returned the child from the Chicago exhibit,” she continued, referring to a 1996 incident in which a female gorilla picked up and handed an unconscious 8-year-old, who had fallen into her enclosure, to her keepers.

“Anyway, whatever, it is a devastating loss to the zoo, and to the gorillas,” Goodall added. “How did the others react? Are they allowed to see, and express grief, which seems to be so important.”


In the days since Harambe’s death, people have passionately spoken out on both sides of the debate, with Maynard telling reporters that Harambe was “acting erratically” and tranquilizers would have taken too long to take effect.

Celebrity zookeeper Jack Hanna and conservationist Jeff Corwin are among those who have defended the zoo for killing the western lowland gorilla, whose species is endangered.

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Hanna said on CBS This Morning on Monday, May 30, that he agreed “a thousand percent” with shooting of the 400-pound gorilla. “A human being is alive today because of the decision the Cincinnati Zoo made,” he said.

Meanwhile, Corwin urged parents to keep a closer eye on their children. “Zoos aren’t your babysitter,” he told Fox 25. “Take a break from the cellphone and the selfie stick and the texting, connect with your children, be responsible for your children.”

Since the gorilla’s death, the hashtag #JusticeForHarambe has trended on Twitter and a petition on, calling for the parents of the 4-year-old boy to be held accountable, has gathered more than 405,000 supporters.

As Us Weekly previously reported, the mother of the boy defended herself against critics on Monday in a now-deleted Facebook post, writing, “As a society we are quick to judge how a parent could take their eyes off of their child and if anyone knows me I keep a tight watch on my kids. Accidents happen but I am thankful that the right people were in the right place.”

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