Penny's Perspective on the Harambe Tragedy

Penny's Perspective on the Harambe Tragedy

Penny and Koko have spent most of their lives getting to know one another.

June 06, 2016

PRESS RELEASE for Immediate Release:

Woodside, California — The Gorilla Foundation would like to express our deep sadness at the death of Harambe, following the tragic events at the Cincinnati Zoo. Our condolences go out to all those involved and especially Harambe’s Family, Chewie and Mara, and their caregivers.

We have had a long-standing relationship with the Cincinnati Zoo as Ndume, Koko’s silverback gorilla companion, was born there. We know the dedication of the Cincinnati team to quality gorilla care, and understand what an incredibly difficult situation this is.

More than 40 years living and working with gorillas has enabled us to see how deeply affected these gentle giants can be by such tragic loss. We have witnessed firsthand how Koko mourned the loss of her first companion, Michael, when he passed away and her intense grief when she lost her kitten, All Ball, in a car accident. We have also seen Koko become sad when reminded of either Michael or All Ball. (And we remember how Michael was traumatized by the memory of his mother’s death by poachers in Africa, which he conveyed to us in sign language.)

As the world’s leading expert on captive gorilla behavior, our Founder, Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson, commented: “the bond among the gorilla family would have been very strong and the gorillas will need emotional support at this time and may suffer from depression.”

Our hope is that some good may come from this tragedy. Highlighting the sensitive nature of gorillas and their plight as a critically endangered species may lead to greater awareness. People’s emotions need to be engaged for change to happen and this is where the Gorilla Foundation comes in.

Koko engages their emotions – she is a powerful ambassador.

We need to find solutions to protect both captive gorillas and free-living gorillas in an environment that is in alignment with their biology, and conducive to their health.

The Gorilla Foundation programs include these solutions — such as creating sanctuaries where gorillas could live undisturbed and protected, using technology to view them at a safe and non-threatening distance, and basic two-way communication to better understand their needs, wants, and emotional status — and for us to convey ours to them.

The goal of the Gorilla Foundation is to work with our partners to offer captive gorillas the option of such a sanctuary environment — both at our current Woodside, California site, and on Maui, Hawaii — to be further developed with support from the public.


For more information on this topic, see also Dr. Penny Patterson’s interview with People, and CNN, as well as the Daily Mail’s independent article on the relationship between Harambe and Project Koko, and on the upcoming new Koko documentary.

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The Gorilla Foundation /
1733 Woodside Rd., Suite 330
Redwood City, CA, 94061
1-800-ME-GO-APE (634-6273)

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Our mission is to learn about gorillas by communicating with them, and apply our knowledge to advance great ape conservation, education, care and empathy.
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