Cincinnati zoo: Video footage of gentle giant Jambo suggests gorilla shooting 'was not necessary'

The two incidents happened 30 years apart 

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Monday 30 May 2016 16:38

They were two incidents separated by 30 years in which a young boy fell into the enclosure of a large gorilla.

In one of them, the gorilla stood protectively over the unconscious youngster and stroked his back as if out of concern. The boy was rescued, the animal was celebrated as “gentle giant” and a statue was later erected in his memory.

In the second, the gorilla also approached the boy, pulled him though the water and then stood next to him in a manner that some observers believed was protective. But rather than taking any chances, zoo officials shot and killed the animal in order to ensure the boy’s safety. Now, people are to hold a vigil for the animal.

Petition over gorilla death

As the shooting dead of the 17-year-old western lowland gorilla named Harambe by officials at Cincinnati Zoo and Botanial Gardens continues to spark controversy, people have been sharing the footage of the earlier incident. Some have said it shows there was no need to for officials in Ohio to take such drastic action.

The earlier incident took place on August 31 1986 at the Durrell Wildlife Park, formerly the Jersey Zoo, located in the British Channel Islands, and was captured by Brian Le Lion, a keen amateur photographer and videographer who was visiting with his parents.

The little boy who fell unconscious into the enclosure of a gorilla called Jambo was five-year-old Levan Merritt, whose family was on holiday in Jersey.

Mr Le Leon, who works in marketing, told The Independent that when he saw the video of the youngster in Cincinnati, it brought back the memories of what he witnessed 30 years earlier.

“The crowd was shouting out, and my dad was trying to keep them quiet,” he said. “There were a lot of emotions going on at the time. It carried on filming and it was not until later that I realised people thought it might be important.”

The little boy was rescued by an ambulance man who entered the enclosure and brought them both out on a rope. Earlier this year, Mr Merritt. now aged 36, told MailOnline: “I am forever thankful to Jambo as obviously it could have gone one or two ways. It was amazing how he protected me in that way. I was pleased to be involved when the statue was put up of him in the zoo.”

A statue of Jambo at Durrell Wildlife Park in Jersey

Jambo died in 1992 of natural causes and the zoo commissioned a statue that stands outside the entrance.

Mr Le Lion said that after the boy was rescued, he and his parents continued their visit. When he got home, his mother suggested he contact the local television station and show the people there his video. That evening, his footage was leading the local news and within days it was being watched around the world.

Mr Le Lion, who said he happened to be in the right place at the right time to capture the encounter between the boy and the 7ft tall 18 stone silverback male, said he always believed the gorilla was not going to hurt him.

“It was like it was something Jambo had never seen before. He was not trying to hurt the boy, but to the people watching it was pretty terrifying,” he said,

Mr Le Lion said he believe the main difference between the two incidents was that Mr Merritt was unconscious when he fell into the enclosure whereas the little boy in Cincinnati was walking and moving.

Posters on social media have pointed out that Jambo’s effort to protect Mr Merritt was not the only such incident: in 1996 at Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield, Illinois, a gorilla called Binti Jua protected a three-year-old boy who had fallen into the enclosure.

In the aftermath of the incident in Cincinnati many have blamed the mother of the boy for failing to stop him entering the enclsoure. Police have indicated she could be charged.

Meanwhile, in a posting on Facebook, the mother, Michelle Greggs, has defended herself and said that “accidents happen”.

“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,” she added.

“Accidents happen but I am thankful that the right people were in the right place today.”

Mr Le Lion said that when he saw the video footage from Cincinnati it brought memories of the incident in 1986 “right back”. He added: “When I saw it, it went to my gut.”

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