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Was That Gorilla Actually Trying to Defend The Child Who Fell Into it's enclosure?

Alternative theory challenges decision to shoot and kill Harambe

An eyewitness who saw a boy climb into an animal enclosure before seeing zoo workers shoot and kill an endangered Western Lowland gorilla named Herambe, claims the animal wasn't actively hurting the boy, and was in fact trying to protect it.

The 17-year-old gorilla was shot dead by a zoo DART team at Cincinnati Zoo yesterday when a four-year-old child fell up to 12 feet into an enclosure. The worldwide debate is all over the internet: There are only about 200,000 Western Lowland Gorillas left alive in the wilds of West Africa. Was it necessary or wrong, to kill an endangered animal in order to save a 4 year old human child?

After the boy fell, the gorilla was seen dragging it through the moat. That is when the Zoo's Dangerous Animal Response Team (DART) decided to shoot to kill Herambe.

The boy was taken to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Centre and is said to have sustained no serious injuries.

Zookeepers say that the 2 female gorillas who shared the enclosure with Harambe, responded to a warning horn sounded by leaving the enclosure. Eyewitness has claimed however that the gorilla was NOT trying to hurt the child, and was instead trying to protect it.

Kim O'Connor told local television station WLWT5: "People are yelling, 'There's a boy in the water. There's a boy in the water'."

When people began to scream, says Miss O'Connor, this scared the gorilla, who was at the time protecting the child. Of course, two people can see the same event unfold, and interpret it differently.

She added: "I don't know if the screaming did it or too many people hanging on the edge, if he thought we were coming in, but then he pulled the boy down away further from the big group.

"The little boy himself had already been talking about wanting to [go into the enclosure] ... get in the water. The mother's like, 'No, you're not, no, you're not'."

Social Media

Social media users have flamed the zoo for killing the gorilla, despite claims by zoo bosses that the child was in "a life-threatening situation". One user wrote: "Pretty sad that an endangered gorilla was killed today because parents couldn't watch their kid."

The western lowland gorilla is the smallest subspecies of gorilla but nevertheless still a primate of exceptional size and strength. It is the species of gorilla most comonly found in zoos worldwide, says Wikipedia.

This species of gorillas exhibits pronounced sexual dimorphism -- the males are much larger than the females. They possess no tails and have jet black skin along with coarse black hair that covers their entire body except for the face, ears, hands, and feet. The hair on the back and rump of males takes on a grey coloration and is also lost as they get progressively older. This coloration is the reason why older males are known as "silverbacks". Their hands are proportionately large with nails on all digits, similar to that of a human's, and very large thumbs. They have short muzzles, a prominent brow ridge, large nostrils, and small eyes and ears. Other features are large muscles in the jaw region along with broad and strong teeth.

A male standing erect can be 5–6 feet (1.5–1.8 m) tall and weigh 300–600 pounds (140–270 kg). According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the average male is 168 kg (370 lb) and stands upright at 163 cm (64 in). Males in captivity, however, are noted to be capable of reaching weights up to 275 kg. Females stand 5 feet (1.5 m) tall and weigh half as much as males.

According to the late John Aspinall, a silverback gorilla in his prime has the physical strength of 7–8 Olympic weight lifters but this claim is unverified. Western gorillas frequently stand upright, but walk in a hunched, quadrupedal fashion, with hands curled and knuckles touching the ground. This style of movement requires long arms, which works for western gorillas because the armspan of gorillas is larger than their standing height.

Western lowland gorilla groups travel within a home range averaging 3–18 sq mi (7.8–46.6 km2). Gorillas do not display territorial behavior, and neighboring groups often overlap ranges.

The group usually favors a certain area within the home range but seems to follow a seasonal pattern depending upon the availability of ripening fruits and, at some sites, localized large open clearings (swamps and "bais"). Gorillas normally travel 0.3–1.8 mi (0.48–2.90 km) per day.

Populations feeding on high-energy foods that vary spatially and seasonally tend to have greater day ranges than those feeding on lower-quality but more consistently available foods. Larger groups travel greater distances in order to obtain sufficient food. Human hunters and leopards can also influence the movement patterns.

It was found that it is easier for males to travel alone and move between groups as a result of the solidarity they experienced before finding their own breeding group. Before reaching the age of sexual maturity, males leave their natal group and go through a “bachelor stage” that can last several years either in solitary or in a non-breeding group.

However, while both sexes leave their birth group, females are never found alone; they just travel from breeding group to breeding group. It was also found that males like to settle with other male members of their family. Their breeding groups consist of one silverback male, three adult females and their offspring.

The male gorilla takes on the role of the protector. Females tend to make bonds with other females in their natal group only, but rather form strong bonds with males. Males also compete aggressively with each other for contact with females.

The group of gorillas is led by one or more adult males. In cases where there are more than one silverback males in a group, they are most likely father and son. Groups containing only one male are believed to be the basic unit of the social group, gradually growing in size due to reproduction and new members migrating in. In the study done at Lope, gorillas harvest most of their food arboreally, but less than half of their night nests are built in trees.

They are often found on the ground, and are made up of up to 30 gorillas. Western lowland gorillas live in the smallest family groups of all gorillas, with an average of 4 to 8 members in each. The leader (the silverback) organizes group activities, like eating, nesting, and traveling in their home range. Those who challenge this alpha male are apt to be cowed by impressive shows of physical power.

He may stand upright, throw things, make aggressive charges, and pound his huge chest while barking out powerful hoots or unleashing a frightening roar. Despite these displays and the animals' obvious physical power, gorillas are generally calm and nonaggressive unless they are disturbed. Young gorillas, from three to six years old, remind human observers of children. Much of their day is spent in play, climbing trees, chasing one another, and swinging from branches.

Stresses have been known to cause both physiological and behavioral chronic issues for captive species including, but not limited to altered reproductive cycling and behavior, reduced immune responses, disrupted hormone and growth levels, reduced body weight, heightened abnormal activities and aggression, and decreased exploratory behavior with increased hiding behaviors.

Such stress reactions could be caused by sounds, light conditions, odors, temperature and humidity conditions, material make-up of enclosures, habitat size constraints, lack of proper hiding areas, forced closeness to humans, routine husbandry and feeding conditions, or abnormal social groups to name a few.

See Also: Tempering the Hatred Within Ourselves


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