BROOKFIELD, Ill. — A little boy tumbled into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden Saturday in an incident reminiscent of a 1996 fall at another zoo — except for the outcome.
A female gorilla named Binti Jua made international headlines 20 years ago when she cradled a 3-year-old boy who had plummeted nearly 20 feet into her enclosure at the Brookfield Zoo in Illinois.
On August 19, 1996, the boy, whose name was never released publicly, slipped away from his mother and climbed through a barrier at the Western Lowland Gorilla Pit.
Stunned spectators and employees looked on as Binti Jua, who was 8 years old at the time, picked up the child’s limp body and cradled him for several minutes before carrying him to safety. Zoo workers who witnessed the rescue say it was something they will never forget.
Binti Jua carried her own baby, 17-month-old Koola, on her back during the entire ordeal while showing her maternal instincts. One onlooker recorded video of the rescue and that video was seen around the world, turning Binti Jua into a beloved hero. She continues to live at the Brookfield Zoo.
The boy in that fall suffered a broken hand and cuts to his face. He spent four days in the hospital and recovered fully.
In the incident at the Cincinnati Zoo on Saturday, a boy fell some 15 feet into the Western Lowland enclosure, where he caught the attention of a 400-pound, 17-year-old gorilla named Harambe. As the boy played in the water of a shallow pool, the huge gorilla could be seen picking up the 3-year-old boy and dragging him to safety inside the enclosure, according to a police report. Out of concern for the child’s safety, however, zoo officials made the difficult decision to fatally shoot Harambe to save the boy.
The zoo has since defended killing the western lowland silverback amid angry backlash from people who watched the video online. An investigation into the actions of the boy’s family is underway, police confirmed. The boy suffered only minor scrapes on his head and knee.