20 Facts About Harambe: The Cincinnati Zoo Gorilla

Posted by , Updated on March 25, 2024

Presenting an intriguing list: top 20 facts about Harambe. The gorilla was killed at the Cincinnati Zoo, one of the largest animal enclosure attractions in the US.  For those of you who lived under a rock, zoo officials killed him to save the life of a young child who fell into his enclosure. The incident was far from being the worst animal attack in recent US history, but it still caused a lot of outrage. Morbidly, it also became the topic of memes and jokes online.

Three years later and people still debate if his murder was the right call. Animal rights activists put the blame on authorities for not fencing the enclosure well. Others blame the irresponsible parents of the toddler. But who was Harambe before he was killed? Gorillas, like several large predators, can kill a human in an instant, but was that Harambe’s intention? We’ll never know. 

However, what we do know is that Harambe was a gorilla who died a very unfortunate death. And with that in mind, we honor his life with 20 facts about Harambe we think you should know. 




Harambe was born at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, on May 27, 1999.




He belonged to western lowland silverback gorillas, which are critically endangered. Recent findings reveal there are less than 175,000 the gorillas.


An Origin Story


A local area counselor going by the name of Dan Van Coppenolle was the godfather of the now legendary gorilla. After winning a naming contest sponsored by the zoo, he decided to name the silverback gorilla Harambe.


But Why Harambe?


Van Coppenolle picked the specific name after listening to the song “Harambe” by Rita Marley, widow of Bob Marley.


Harambe's Meaning


Harambee, by the way, is a Swahili term for communal labor.


He Was A Heavyweight


Speaking in boxing terms, Harambe was a super-heavyweight as he weighed between 400-440 pounds.


A "Gentle Giant"


The man who raised Harambe in Texas, Jerry Jones, gave him the nickname “gentle giant” because of his big size and friendly character.


A Relatively New Addition To the Zoo


He moved to Cincinnati Zoo in 2014, after being in Gladys Porter Zoo, Texas, for almost 15 years. He was moved there to learn adult gorilla behavior and join a new social group.


He Had A Family At the Zoo


He wasn’t alone at the Cincinnati Zoo. He was one of the ten lowland silverback gorillas at the habitat.


His Kind Is In Danger


According to CNN, nearly 5% of Harambe’s kind are killed in the wild on an annual basis. Other than hunting, lack of habitat and fatal diseases are also a menace to this kind of gorillas.


He was killed one day after his birthday


Ironically, Harambe was shot dead only a day after his 17th birthday. Gorillas of his kind usually live up to 35-40 years.


The tragic encounter with the young boy


On May 28, 2016, the three-year-old boy visiting the Cincinnati Zoo fell into the moat at the Gorilla World habitat. Harambe took notice of the boy and decided to approach him. Sadly, Harambe’s actions that day became the reason for his death.


The 10 critical minutes


During the tense ten minutes, the boy was in the moat, and Harambe became very anxious. Bystanders were screaming which caused him more distress. Ultimately, he rushed the child and dragged him through the water.

Afterward, he placed the boy on the ground, but when the child tried to stand up, Harambe pushed him back down into a sitting position.  This alarming behavior became too much and zoo officials decided to take action.


The "Deadly" Decision


Zoo officials considered that the situation was life-threatening for the boy. To make sure that the child wouldn’t be fatally hurt by the agitated gorilla, they decided to shoot Harambe and kill him.


Video of shooting goes viral


A bystander recorded the incident with his camera. When the video was released online, it went viral and got millions of views within a few days.


Justice for Harambe


Shortly after the incident, a Change.org petition with the catchy title “Justice for Harambe” was uploaded. The petition pretty much blamed the parents of the kid for Harambe’s death.


Several celebrities joined the backlash


The fatal shooting of Harambe received criticism from some influential celebrities as well. Ricky Gervais and Brian May were two of the most famous stars who expressed anger at the shooting of the gorilla.


Vigils took place in Harambe's memory


Many vigils were organized globally to commemorate Harambe’s memory. More than 4,000 people attended a candlelight vigil at Hyde Park, London.


Harambe the “celebrity”


The gorilla’s death became such a viral topic with social media that Harambe was seen as a true celebrity. Images of Harambe accompanied those of Prince, David Bowie, Muhammad Ali and Alan Rickman, in tributes to celebrities who died in 2016.


Harambe the "Meme Legend"


Harambe also became subject of multiple viral memes, with many of them being humorous. Vox wrote that Harambe has an “undeniable status as 2016’s meme of the year.”