Twelve feet below her, in an enclosure at Cincinnati Zoo, her son stood nervously in front of Harambe, a 17-year-old western lowland gorilla. The great ape had climbed down into the moat when the boy fell into the enclosure, but after carrying and dragging the child around for ten minutes he seemed unsure of what to do next.
The incident has prompted criticism from around the world — both of the zoo’s actions and of the apparent negligence of family members who failed to stop the boy crawling under a steel railing and through wires and bushes to reach the position from which he fell into the moat.
The gorilla did not appear to be attacking the child, but he said it was an extremely strong animal and in an agitated situation. Tranquillising Harambe would not have knocked him out immediately, he said, leaving the boy in danger.
Harambe was born in captivity in Texas and was moved to Cincinnati last year. Two female gorillas were also in the enclosure when the boy fell in, but they kept their distance.
A similar incident 30 years ago had a happier outcome: Levan Merritt, aged five, fell into a gorilla enclosure at Jersey Zoo. Jambo, a “gentle giant”, stood guard, stroking the unconscious boy’s back and protecting him from the others until he was rescued. Jambo later appeared on Channel Island stamps.