Harambe's death could disrupt gorilla's family

Posted at 7:54 PM, May 30, 2016

OXFORD, Ohio –  The shooting death of a male gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo could disrupt the gorilla's family and lead to stress, depression and infighting, an expert says.

Harambe's loss will be especially felt by the female gorillas, according to Dr. Scott Suarez, a primatologist at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

"The gorillas naturally in the wild live in a social system in which there is one adult male, sometimes a younger sibling. The adult male we call a silverback and the younger one we call a blackback. And then [there's] a group of unrelated females and those females typically bond very strongly with the male," Suarez told WCPO on Monday.

The other gorillas will likely experience grief over Harambe's absence, Suarez said.

"Very likely, in the beginning, stress.  I know that animals feel grief at the loss of other individuals and if an animal disappears and is gone for a while, certainly depression and sadness would be a big part of it," he said.

Suarez explained that the social order could be upset in another way as well.

"One of the roles an adult male plays in a group [is] a policing role where if there's a conflict between females usually a male will come in and break it up. Now, without an adult male there, if there are conflicts - that's not to say that the females wouldn't resolve it themselves - but that's one of the roles he would have and that role would be gone until another male is able to replace him."

A zoo emergency response team team killed Harambe after he picked up and dragged a 3-year-old child who fell into the gorilla enclosure.

WATCH Harambe and the boy in the video below:


Zoo director Thane Maynard said Monday the other gorillas have been "looking for [Harambe]."

"They don't know what happened to him, but they're doing fine and they're all resting."

Maynard said the zoo may send two females to other zoos.

RELATED: Cincy zoo director again defends decision to kill gorilla

It's fortunate that the other gorillas did not see Harambe shot, Suarez said. That could have been extremely damaging to the relationship the zoo staff has with the other gorillas.

Suarez doesn't believe that Harambe would have deliberately killed the boy, but he said any  number of things could have happened -  including the child's death - if zoo officials hadn't taken the action they did.

The video of Harambe with the child appears to show that Harambe was not trying to hurt the child, but the gorilla did grow agitated by the shouts and cries from the people above.

"Gorillas will display and they'll drag things and run rampantly and if they grab the child and slammed it into a wall or dropped it off the edge of the moat or any of those things could have happened I think could have very easily killed the child even unintentionally," Suarez said.

Suarez also thinks that it is possible the outcome might have been different if a female had found the boy instead.

"It could have been but not guaranteed," he said.  "I do know cases where females have been aggressive or have so it is possible and females will display sometimes but I think there is greater danger with a male in this case."

RELATED: Protests grow over gorilla's shooting.

Suarez said the zoo just couldn't take any chances with the boy's life.

"If that child had been killed, people would be saying, 'Why didn't you do something earlier? Why didn't you act earlier?' I think they knew that  they had to do something. They loved that animal. There is no way they would want to hurt it."

Western lowland gorillas like Harambe have a complex social structure that researchers are still learning about, Suarez said, so it's a scientific loss for  zoo staff as well as an emotional one.

RELATED: Texas zookeeper mourns gorilla he raised.