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Gorilla Killed At Zoo Is Honored By Heartbroken Public

Harambe, a silverback gorilla who just celebrated his 17th birthday, died on May 28, 2016, when a 4-year-old boy climbed into his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo's Gorilla World exhibit. Shortly after, zoo officials shot him.

Without his parents noticing, the child went under a railing, over wires and through a moat to reach Harambe. When people saw what had happened, shouts rang out, startling the animal. The female gorillas were called out of the enclosure, but Harambe stayed with the boy. Many disagree about whether or not Harambe was a threat to the child. Nevertheless, zoo officials made the quick decision to shoot Harambe because they feared tranquilizing him would take too long.

Harambe was born on May 27, 1999, at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Texas, and was hand-raised by the staff there. It was at Gladys Porter where he was first given the name Harambe, a Swahili rallying cry that means "pull together."

Two years ago, at age 15, he was moved to the Cincinnati Zoo. Zoo officials had hoped Harambe would become a father, helping to help save his species. Western lowland gorillas like Harambe are critically endangered because of habitat destruction and poaching. Although exact numbers are hard to know, it's estimated that fewer than 175,000 Western lowland gorillas are left in the whole world today.

Harambe arrived at the Cincinnati Zoo in September 2014, and was described as "adjusting well" and "very intelligent and curious" on the zoo's website.

In addition to being a wise and complex individual, Harambe was also an important member of his community of Western lowland gorillas, a species that, in the wild, lives in the northwestern Congo Basin in Africa.

Upon the death of Harambe, Gladys Porter Zoo released the following statement:

"The loss of Harambe has deeply saddened the staff of the Gladys Porter Zoo. Each of us ... those who raised him, those who cared for him daily, and those who simply admired him as he grew into a magnificent silverback ... are dealing with his tragic loss in his or her own way."

The Cincinnati Zoo issued a statement as well:

"We are heartbroken about losing Harambe, but a child's life was in danger and a quick decision had to be made by our Dangerous Animal Response Team," said Zoo Director Thane Maynard. "Our first response was to call the gorillas out of the exhibit. The two females complied, but Harambe did not. It is important to note that with the child still in the exhibit, tranquilizing the 450-pound gorilla was not an option."

Still, many animal advocates are outraged by the decision to kill Harambe. Chris Draper, spokesman for the Born Free Foundation, called the death of Harambe a tragedy for everyone involved. "This is a tragedy: for Harambe, who has had his life cut short, and for the remaining gorillas at the zoo who have lost a key member of their family."

People held a vigil for Harambe outside the Cincinnati Zoo on Monday, gathering together to honor Harambe's memory.

"I know how we are all angry and upset over this situation," Anthony Seta, who organized the vigil on Facebook, wrote. "This demonstration is in memory of Harambe. This is not a protest against the zoo."