Harambe (May 27, 1999 – May 28, 2016) was a western lowland gorilla who lived at the Cincinnati Zoo from 2014 to 2016, and previously at the Gladys Porter Zoo for 15 years. On May 28, 2016, a three-year-old boy climbed into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden where he was grabbed and dragged by Harambe.[3] Fearing for the boy's life, a zoo worker shot and killed Harambe. The incident was recorded on video and received broad international coverage and commentary, including controversy over the choice to use lethal force. A number of primatologists and conservationists wrote later that the zoo had no other choice under the circumstances, and that it highlighted the danger of zoo animals near humans and the need for better standards of care.

Harambe with boy.jpg
Image from video showing Harambe holding the 3-year-old boy
SpeciesWestern gorilla
Born(1999-05-27)May 27, 1999
Gladys Porter Zoo, Brownsville, Texas, U.S.
DiedMay 28, 2016(2016-05-28) (aged 17)
Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
Cause of deathGunshot wound[1][2]
Known forCircumstances of death, meme
  • Gladys Porter Zoo (1999–2014)
  • Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden (2014–2016)
Weight440 lb (200 kg)
Named after"Harambe (Working Together for Freedom)", song by Rita Marley

Harambe became the subject of internet memes, songs, a video game, a statue, and other tributes and recognitions.

Early life and upbringing

Harambe (/həˈrɑːmb/ hə-RAHM-bay) was born at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, on May 27, 1999. He was named by Dan Van Coppenolle, a local area counselor who won a naming contest sponsored by the zoo.[4] He came up with the name after listening to the 1988 song "Harambe (Working Together for Freedom)" by Rita Marley, widow of Bob Marley.[5] Harambee is a Swahili term for communal labor.[5]

On September 18, 2014, Harambe was transferred to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden to learn adult gorilla behavior and join a new social group.[6][7]


On May 28, 2016, a three-year-old boy visiting the Cincinnati Zoo fell into the moat at the Gorilla World habitat.[8][9]

Witnesses said they heard the child say he wanted to go into the gorilla enclosure.[10] The boy then climbed a 3-foot-tall (0.91 m) fence, crawled through 4 feet (1.2 m) of bushes, and then fell 15 feet (4.6 m) into a moat of shallow water. Zoo officials immediately signaled for the three gorillas in the habitat to return inside, and two females did so. However, the third gorilla, the inquisitive 440-pound (200 kg) male silverback, Harambe, climbed down into the moat to investigate the child splashing in the water.[9]

Over the next 10 minutes, Harambe became increasingly "agitated and disoriented" by the screams of onlookers.[11][12] He carried the child through the water, occasionally propping him up when he sat, or pushing him down when he stood.[11] Harambe exhibited "strutting" behavior—walking around with legs and arms stiffly extended to appear bigger—a bluffing move, though one with inherent danger should he throw or drag the boy around too roughly.[12] Harambe then carried the boy up a ladder out of the moat onto dry land. Afraid for the boy's welfare, zoo officials made the decision to kill Harambe, doing so with a single rifle shot. Cincinnati firefighters said the boy was between Harambe's legs when the shot was fired.[9]

Harambe was killed one day after his 17th birthday.[11] The boy was given a trauma assessment and transported to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center; his injuries were non-life-threatening.[1]


Memorial for Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo, June 12, 2016

The incident was recorded in a dramatic video by an anonymous bystander and uploaded to YouTube, where it went viral, sparking global publicity and controversy.[13][14] Some observers said that it was unclear whether Harambe was likely to harm the child.[15][16] Others called for the boy's parents or the zoo to be held accountable for the gorilla's death.[17] Director Thane Maynard stated, "The child was being dragged around ... His head was banging on concrete. This was not a gentle thing. The child was at risk."[18][19][20]

Police investigated possible criminal charges against the parents, while the parents defended the zoo's actions.[21][22] The boy's mother also became the target of harassment on the Internet and social media.[23] On June 6, 2016, Ohio prosecutor Joe Deters said that the mother would not face any charges of wrongdoing.[24] The zoo was investigated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which sets the standards for zoos, and the USDA.[25]

Several vigils took place to honor Harambe's death. A candlelight vigil was held at Hyde Park, London.[26] Anthony Seta, an animal rights activist, spoke at a vigil at Cincinnati Zoo, saying: "I'm not here to decide what was right and what was wrong; the fact is that a gorilla who just celebrated his birthday has been killed."[27]

The shooting received criticism from several high-profile celebrities, including Ricky Gervais, Brian May, and Piers Morgan.[28]

Donald Trump defended the actions of the Cincinnati Zoo during his successful 2016 presidential campaign. Trump said, "You have a child—a young child who is at stake—and, you know ... it's too bad there wasn't another way. I thought it was so beautiful to watch that, you know, powerful, almost 500-pound gorilla, the way he dealt with that little boy. But it just takes one second [...] It just takes one little flick of his finger. And I will tell you they probably had no choice."[29]

The incident sparked debate among biologists and primatologists on whether gorillas and other primates should be held in captivity at all.[12] Primatologist Jane Goodall said that according to the video it seemed Harambe was trying to protect the child.[30] Goodall later issued a longer explanation in an interview with the president of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, concluding that the zoo had no choice but to kill Harambe.[31] She wrote, "It was awful for the child, the parents, Harambe, the zoo, the keepers and the public. But when people come into contact with wild animals, life and death decisions sometimes have to be made."[25] Goodall said "we will never be able to be 100% sure that people and wildlife won’t be injured when they are in such close proximity", but she believed that zoos "with the highest standards of care" could play an important role.[25]

Zookeeper Jack Hanna strongly defended the zoo's actions as the "correct decision", noting that a tranquilizer dart might have taken five or ten minutes to take effect and could have aggravated Harambe further.[32] Primatologist Frans de Waal said he saw few options for the zoo: "A gorilla is so immensely strong that even with the best of intentions—and we are not sure that Harambe had those—the child's death was a probable outcome."[33]

Cultural impact


Following the killing, Harambe became subject of multiple viral memes.[34] Vox wrote in November that Harambe has an "undeniable status as 2016's meme of the year."[35] People magazine wrote that "Harambe continues to live on in the collective mind of the internet, entering into a rarefied state of venerated meme status."[36] One of the most widespread memes was noted by The Washington Post and New York magazine who observed a proliferation of over-the-top and fake tributes to Harambe. "The idea is, the more intense and more sincere-seeming the expression of mourning is, the funnier the joke."[34][37] One example of this was the "Dicks out for Harambe" meme ("dicks" as slang for guns) which facetiously called for armed revenge of Harambe's death.[38][39][40] Aja Romano of Vox wrote that "If you were a progressive, the Harambe meme gave you a chance to mock what you viewed as the hypocritical haranguing of the mainstream while avoiding real issues of social justice; and if you were a conservative, the Harambe meme gave you a chance to mock liberal hysteria."[37][41] One meme is a play on conspiracy theories, such as "Bush did Harambe", a reference to 9/11 conspiracy theories.[42] In Australia, people joked about supporting Harambe's corpse as a write-in candidate on the ballot for the federal election.[43] Public Policy Polling included Harambe in their polling for the U.S. presidential election. Harambe had 5% support in late July 2016 (ahead of Green Party nominee Jill Stein) and 2% in August 2016 (tied with Stein).[44][45]

Cincinnati Zoo director Thane Maynard reacted negatively: "We are not amused by the memes, petitions and signs about Harambe. Our zoo family is still healing, and the constant mention of Harambe makes moving forward more difficult for us. We are honoring Harambe by redoubling our gorilla conservation efforts and encouraging others to join us."[46] In late August, the zoo deleted its Twitter account after being targeted daily by trolls mentioning Harambe.[47] The zoo resumed its account two months later.[48][49]


A self-described underground culture collective known as Otaku Gang released a computer parody fighting game known as Harambe vs. Capcom, with Harambe being able to fight characters from Capcom's Street Fighter franchise.[50][51][52]

American rappers Young Thug and Dumbfoundead each released songs entitled "Harambe". The former did so on his 2016 album Jeffery, each track of which is named after one of his "idols", although the lyrics do not reference the gorilla;[53][54] the latter likens the fate of the ape to gang violence and police brutality.[55] Canadian dubstep producer Excision included a song titled "Harambe" on his 2016 album Virus.[56]

On March 30, 2019, the CEO of Tesla, Inc., Elon Musk, released a surprise two-minute rap song titled "RIP Harambe" onto his SoundCloud.[57] The track was performed by Yung Jake, written by Yung Jake and Caroline Polachek, and produced by BloodPop.[58][59] Rolling Stone magazine called the track "a bouncy tribute to Harambe".[57]

On naming contests for newborn baby gorillas, a teenager made a petition for Dublin Zoo to name a newborn baby gorilla as "Harambe Jr." ("Harambetta" if female) after Dublin Zoo announced the newborn baby gorilla by tweet.[60]

On June 16, 2017, satire news site The Onion featured an article of professional wrestler Big Show being killed by WWE after a seven-year-old boy wandered into a steel cage during a live event in Indianapolis.[61]

On October 18, 2021, the 7-foot-tall (2.1 m) bronze statue Harambe was illegally placed in Bowling Green Park in New York City, facing the Charging Bull statue, which itself had originally been illegally placed. The act was carried out by organizers promoting Sapien.Network, a social media network who aim to put the needs of humans first. The statue of Harambe facing the bull, whose feet were surrounded by 10,000 bananas, was a statement about wealth disparity.[62]

Later developments

In September 2017, the zoo added Mshindi, a 29-year-old male western lowland gorilla transferred from the Louisville Zoo. He joined females Chewie, 21, and Mara, 22, who were present on the day of the killing. At the same time, the zoo created a new indoor habitat where the public could safely view the gorillas year-round from behind safety glass.[63][64]

See also


  1. ^ a b "3-Year-Old Who Fell Into Cincinnati Zoo's Gorilla Enclosure Expected to Recover". ABC News. Retrieved July 2, 2020.
  2. ^ "Cincinnati gorilla shooting: Police to investigate parents". BBC News. June 1, 2016. Retrieved May 30, 2021.
  3. ^ Mike McPhate (May 29, 2016). "Gorilla Killed After Child Enters Enclosure at Cincinnati Zoo". The New York Times. Retrieved May 29, 2021.
  4. ^ Bigfoot Journeys (January 27, 2014). "Announcing the name of a baby lowland gorilla, "Harambe"". Archived from the original on December 18, 2021 – via YouTube.
  5. ^ a b Van Coppenolle, Dan (June 1, 2016). "I named Harambe. What his death means to me". CNN. Retrieved April 23, 2018.
  6. ^ "Cincinnati Zoo gets silverback gorilla Harambe for 'spring training'". WCPO. April 14, 2015. Archived from the original on May 31, 2016.
  7. ^ "New Rookie Silverback in Gorilla World for Spring Training – The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden". April 14, 2015.
  8. ^ "Gorilla killing: 3-year-old boy's mother won't be charged". CNN. June 6, 2016. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
  9. ^ a b c Knight, Cameron (June 1, 2016). "How boy got into gorilla enclosure". USA Today. Cincinnati.com. Retrieved June 20, 2016. a 3-year-old boy dropped into the Gorilla World exhibit
  10. ^ John Shammas (May 30, 2016). "Mum of boy who fell into gorilla zoo enclosure blasts critics saying 'accidents happen'". Mirror. Retrieved June 20, 2016.
  11. ^ a b c Hall, Carla (May 31, 2016). "Lesson of the Cincinnati gorilla killing: The zoo is not a playground". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 20, 2016.
  12. ^ a b c Natalie Angier (June 6, 2016). "Do Gorillas Even Belong in Zoos? Harambe's Death Spurs Debate". The New York Times. Retrieved June 20, 2016.
  13. ^ Cincinnati zoo kills gorilla to save boy who fell into enclosure on YouTube
  14. ^ "Zoo faces backlash over decision to shoot gorilla dead after boy, 4, fell into enclosure". London Evening Standard. May 28, 2016. Retrieved May 30, 2016.
  15. ^ "Killed Gorilla Seemed to Protect Child Who Fell in Enclosure: Witness". NBC News. Retrieved May 30, 2016.
  16. ^ "Gorilla shot dead in zoo: Killing unnecessary, primate expert says – Video". NewsComAu. May 30, 2016. Retrieved May 30, 2016.
  17. ^ Grinberg, Emanuella (May 29, 2016). "Critics blame parents, Cincinnati Zoo for gorilla's death". CNN. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  18. ^ McPhate, Kate (May 30, 2016). "Zoo's Killing of Gorilla Holding a Boy Prompts Outrage". The New York Times. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  19. ^ Ralph, Ellis; Rose, Rashard (May 29, 2016). "Gorilla shot to save child at Cincinnati zoo". CNN. Retrieved May 30, 2016.
  20. ^ "Gorilla Killed After Child Enters Enclosure at Cincinnati Zoo". The New York Times. May 30, 2016. Retrieved May 30, 2016.
  21. ^ "Gorilla killing at Cincinnati zoo sparks probe into possible criminal charges". Reuters. Archived from the original on May 31, 2016.
  22. ^ John Shammas (June 1, 2016). "Astonishing new footage shows gorilla 'PROTECTING' boy and holding his hand before being shot dead". Daily Mirror.
  23. ^ Chai, Carmen. "Harambe's death: Is the parent-shaming over gorilla's death going overboard?".
  24. ^ Madison Park; Holly Yan (June 6, 2016). "Gorilla killing: 3-year-old boy's mother won't be charged". CNN.
  25. ^ a b c Jane Goodall (June 19, 2016). "Jane Goodall, Azzedine Downes together offer thoughts on tragic Harambe killing". International Fund for Animal Welfare. Archived from the original on March 23, 2019. Retrieved June 20, 2016.
  26. ^ Sam Sargeant (October 29, 2016). "Wicks Out for Harambe: a Candlelit Vigil for the Internet's Favourite Gorilla". Vice. Retrieved June 2, 2020.
  27. ^ "Vigil called at Cincinnati Zoo in tribute to slain gorilla". The Los Angeles Times. May 30, 2016. Retrieved June 6, 2017.
  28. ^ Chris Graham (May 31, 2016). "Celebrities joins backlash over shooting of Harambe the gorilla – but Ohio zoo defends decision". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on January 12, 2022. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  29. ^ "Donald Trump weighs in on killing of Harambe the gorilla". Archived from the original on May 31, 2016. Retrieved December 15, 2021 – via YouTube.
  30. ^ Goodall, Jane. "Memo RE: Shooting of Harambe at Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens" (PDF). janegoodall.org. Retrieved June 16, 2016.
  31. ^ Melissa Chan (June 20, 2016). "Jane Goodall Says Zoo Was Right to Kill Harambe the Gorilla". Time. Yahoo! News. Retrieved June 20, 2016.
  32. ^ "Jack Hanna defends Cincinnati Zoo's decision to kill gorilla". USA Today. Retrieved August 3, 2016.
  33. ^ Harambe's Behavior May Have Been Normal Gorilla Play, Michael Greshko. National Geographic, May 31, 2016
  34. ^ a b Abby Ohlheiser (July 27, 2016). "The Internet won't let Harambe rest in peace". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  35. ^ Romano, Aja (November 9, 2016). "Those claims that Harambe won 20,000 votes are based on nothing".
  36. ^ Heigl, Alex (August 15, 2016). "Harambe the Gorilla's Bizarre Eternal Life as an Internet Meme". People.
  37. ^ a b Brian Feldman (July 27, 2016). "The Dark Internet Humor of Harambe Jokes". New York. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  38. ^ Siese, April (July 7, 2016). "'D**ks out for Harambe' is a movement Danny Trejo supports". The Daily Dot. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
  39. ^ Rense, Sarah (August 16, 2016). "No, Really, Why Are We All Saying 'Dicks Out for Harambe'?". Esquire. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
  40. ^ Carina Hsieh (December 5, 2016). ""Dicks Out for Harambe": How 2 Average Guys Started the Year's Most Controversial Meme". Cosmopolitan. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
  41. ^ Romano, Aja (August 17, 2016). "The Harambe meme is still going strong. And it's about a lot more than a dead gorilla". Vox.
  42. ^ Reigstad, Leif (August 17, 2016). "George W. Bush Didn't Kill Harambe, The Internet Is Just Weird". Texas Monthly.
  43. ^ Elle Hunt (July 2, 2016). "Vote for Harambe: Australian election gives second life to Cincinnati zoo gorilla". The Guardian. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  44. ^ Firozi, Paulina (August 17, 2016). "Poll: Jill Stein tied with Harambe, trailing Deez Nutz in Texas". The Hill.
  45. ^ Silverstein, Jason (July 31, 2016). "Harambe the dead gorilla would fare well as independent presidential candidate, poll says". Daily News. New York.
  46. ^ Griffin, Andrew (August 22, 2016). "Harambe: Stop making memes of our dead gorilla, Cincinnati Zoo pleads". The Independent. Archived from the original on May 9, 2022.
  47. ^ Mark Molloy (August 23, 2016). "Cincinnati Zoo deletes Twitter account over abuse and memes of dead gorilla Harambe". The Daily Telegraph. Associated Press. Archived from the original on January 12, 2022. Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  48. ^ "Cincinnati Zoo rejoins Twitter following Harambe controversy". Fox News. Associated Press. October 21, 2016. Retrieved October 21, 2016.
  49. ^ Sewell, Dan (April 22, 2017). "Premature hippo a happy hit for Ohio zoo after gorilla death". ABC News. Retrieved April 22, 2017.
  50. ^ Hernandez, Patricia (September 16, 2016). "Someone Put Harambe In Street Fighter, Because Why Not". Kotaku. Retrieved September 17, 2016.
  51. ^ Good, Owen (September 17, 2016). "Dear God, someone has made Harambe vs. Capcom". Polygon. Retrieved September 17, 2016.
  52. ^ Lemon, Marshall (September 17, 2016). "Harambe Vs Capcom turns tragic story into a parody game". VG247. Retrieved September 17, 2016.
  53. ^ "Young Thug's New No, My Name Is JEFFERY Mixtape Has Songs for Harambe and Rihanna, and an Incredible Cover: Listen". Pitchfork Media. August 26, 2016. Retrieved August 30, 2016.
  54. ^ "Young Thug writes a song for Harambe, forgets Harambe". The Verge. August 26, 2016. Retrieved August 30, 2016.
  55. ^ Braboy, Mark (August 19, 2016). "Dumbfoundead Addresses These Turbulent Times In "Harambe"". Retrieved September 11, 2016.
  56. ^ Meadow, Matthew (October 25, 2016). "Excision releases his third studio album "Virus"". Your EDM. Retrieved November 1, 2016.
  57. ^ a b Kreps, Daniel (March 31, 2019). "Hear Elon Musk's Surprise Rap Song 'RIP Harambe'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 31, 2019.
  58. ^ Arcand, Rob (March 31, 2019). "Elon Musk Drops Surprise Rap Single "RIP Harambe"". Spin. Retrieved April 1, 2019.
  59. ^ Fitzgerald, Trent (March 31, 2019). "Elon Musk Randomly Shares Rap Song Dedicated to Harambe". XXL. Retrieved April 10, 2019.
  60. ^ "Teen petitions Dublin Zoo to name baby gorilla Harambe Jr". The Daily Dot. July 29, 2016. Retrieved January 3, 2017.
  61. ^ "WWE Staff Forced To Shoot Aggressive Wrestler After Child Climbs Into Steel Cage". theonion.com. June 16, 2017. Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  62. ^ Gabriella Lozano (October 10, 2021). "7-Foot Harambe Statue Stares Down Wall Street's Charging Bull, Which Is Now Covered in Bananas". NBC New York. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  63. ^ "Cincinnati Zoo Introduces First Gorilla Since the Death of Harambe". Yahoo! News. September 15, 2017. Retrieved September 17, 2017.
  64. ^ The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden (November 20, 2017). "New Indoor Gorilla Habitat Tour". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 18, 2021. Retrieved April 23, 2018.

External links