What Happens to Harambe’s Gorilla Troop Now That He’s Gone? It’s Complicated

What Happens to Harambe’s Gorilla Troop Now That He’s Gone? It’s Complicated
June 03 11:45 2016 Print This Article

(WIRED) – BEFORE THAT TODDLER FELL, before Harambe was killed, before the outrage erupted, Harambe was a young gorilla on his way to meet some ladies. In September, 2014, the silverback gorilla, 15 years old at the time, traveled from Brownsville, Texas to the Cincinnati Zoo to meet the female Western Lowland Gorillas Chewie and Mara.

Last week zookeepers shot and killed Harambe because they feared he might hurt a four-year-old boy who slipped into the gorilla’s enclosure. As the Internet outrage machine spews and sputters, Harambe’s death clearly means different things to different people. For zookeepers, his sad, unexpected death means a kink in the Gorilla Species Survival Plan.

Lowland gorillas are critically endangered, numbering just 100,000 in the wild. The Gorilla Species Survival Plan carefully manages breeding among the 353 gorillas in accredited US zoos to maintain genetic diversity. Like playing matchmaker in a very, very small town, matching silverbacks to the right troop can get tricky. “It’s like a really complex chess game,” says Kristen Lukas, chair of the Gorilla Species Survival Plan and director of conservation and science at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.

The Cincinnati Zoo, which has a long track record of breeding gorillas, had planned to let Harambe father baby gorillas when he got a little older, again in accordance with the species survival plan. “It will be a loss to the gene pool of lowland gorillas,” zoo director Thane Maynard said at a press conference this weekend. After Harambe died, the zoo saved and froze his semen, but it’s unclear if they’ll use it to breed gorillas in the future.

Harambe was born at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas in 1999. In the wild, a male silverback leads a troop of several females. And since the ratio of male and female gorillas born are roughly equal, not all males get to lead and breed. Harambe was to be among the lucky few.

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