Jerry Stones raised Harambe f-rom birth at Gladys Porter Zoo in Texas. He spent 16 years with the animal before it was transferred to Gorilla World at Cincinnati for breeding purposes in September 2014.
The 74-year-old spoke publicly on Tuesday about his best friend. He said he was heartbroken, but did not condemn the difficult decision made by Cincinnati Zoo staff.
“I admit. It tore me up inside,” he told TIME. “These are like your children. You’re with them all the time. You’re around them f-rom the time they’re born.”
Mr Stones said Harambe was like a child to him.
“You have very, very tender feelings for them,” he said.
“It’s like if you’ve ever lost a pet, but even worse. There’s so much more because they’re intelligent. They have so many human traits. They manage to get into your heart a little bit more.”
Harambe was shot after a four-year-old boy fell in to the moat surrounding his enclosure. Footage filmed on a mobile phone showed Harambe grab the boy by the foot before dragging him through the water.
Harambe begins dragging the boy. Source: YouTubeSource:YouTube
The boy’s mother can be heard telling him to be calm before the gorilla drags him out of sight. Minutes later, the zoo’s Dangerous Animal Response Team opens fire on Harambe.
Zoo director Thane Maynard said: “Tranquillising the 450-pound gorilla was not an option.”
Mr Stones agrees.
“I’m very, very sad to see this beautiful animal die, but at the same time you have to put the child first,” he said.
“Life happens. You don’t have any control over it.”
Mr Stones said the incident at Gorilla World was Harambe’s first interaction with a small boy.
“That child being in that exhibit was totally foreign to him. He’s used to people, but not children.
“We don’t know what goes through his mind anymore than what goes through my mind.”
‘YES, ZOOS ARE A POSITIVE THING’
The public was quick to apply blame to the boy’s mother. Many said she should have kept a closer watch on the four-year-old.
Comedian and animal rights activist Ricky Gervais was among them, tweeting: “It seems that some gorillas make better parents than some people.”
Others turned on the zoo, saying animals should never be kept in captivity.
Professor Colin Groves has studied primates for years. The Australian National University lecturer and author of books including Primate Taxonomy told news.com.au zoos are not “bad” but Harambe’s enclosure was problematic.
“Yes, zoos are positive thing, as long as the conditions there for their animals are at least as good as those in the wild,” he said.
“There are many species which have been saved by zoos, and some have been reintroduced into the wild. The publicity caused by catching rare animals and breeding them in zoos has often stimulated their home countries to take their conservation much more seriously.”
He said Harambe’s enclosure at Gorilla World had some obvious flaws that may have contributed to the anxiety he showed.
“I have looked at the online video, and the very first thing about it is the absolutely deafening noise of the crowd. Then Harambe, after being obviously a bit bemused by the child, uses it as a display object.
“In both the wild and in zoos, adult males display (typically at each other, but anyway as a sign of dominance) what is called the ‘water splash’: they run through water, making an almighty splash using one arm.
Gladys Porter Zoo facilities director Jerry Stones says he is heartbroken. Picture: Jason Hoekema/The Brownsville Herald via APSource:AP
“It seems to me that that is exactly what Harambe is doing here: he is startled by the sudden arrival of the child in the canyon, and utterly thrown, possibly terrified, by the commotion going on above, which would probably be amplified by the walls of the canyon, and makes a display, using the child, rather than the palm of his hand, to make the splash.”
Prof Groves said the walls of the enclosure would have made the screaming f-rom above seem far louder.
“Looking at the video, a deep, deep canyon like this seems utterly unsuitable. Sounds coming f-rom above will be magnified. In addition, gorillas — especially silverback males, who need to maintain their sense of dominance — should not be looked down upon.
“Ideally, they should be separated f-rom the public by glass, as in Melbourne Zoo, whe-re they are in a fairly peaceful enclosure, interesting for them and unstressed.”
The boy’s mother addressed criticism on Facebook. Michelle Gregg wrote that God protected her child.
“I want to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers today. What started off as a wonderful day turned into a scary one,” she wrote on Facebook.
“For those of you that have seen the news or been on social media that was my son that fell in the gorilla exhibit at the zoo. God protected my child until the authorities were able to get to him. My son is safe and was able to walk away with a concussion and a few scrapes ... no broken bones or internal injuries.
“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 today.”