Gorillas are remarkably similar to humans, which means they cope with loss the same way we do.
This rings especially true for the remaining gorillas living at the Cincinnati Zoo, who experts say will need emotional support in the wake of the death of 17-year-old silverback gorilla Harambe on Saturday.
Dr. Penny Patterson — co-founder of The Gorilla Foundation — says the great apes could face a “classic sort of human depression” following the tragic loss.
The animal psychologist began her studies in 1972 with a 1-year-old western lowland gorilla Koko, who used sign language to express her grief after suffering multiple losses over the years.
“When she would see a picture of a kitten that looked like [the one she lost], she would sign ‘cry,’ ‘sad.’ She also lost a gorilla who was like a brother to her, and she went into a depression. She didn’t talk much, eat much, sleep much. Classic sort of human depression.”
The expert believes the ten remaining Cincinnati Zoo gorillas may respond in the same way after Harambe was fatally shot, continuing:
“I would expect that the bond was pretty close and the females might react the same way and will need some emotional support.”
As for how the zoo should handle the treatment of the animals, Patterson recommended:
“I would explain the loss if they didn’t see it [happen]. They understand English. Understanding that he was a great loss to everyone, and that he was a hero. That’s what he was.”
Patterson didn’t watch the footage of the 4-year-old in the enclosure with Harambe, because she fears “it will affect me and that will affect the gorillas around me” — though she hopes the devastating incident will help raise awareness for endangered gorillas, adding:
“They need our help and they need it now. To bring attention to their plight, to their intelligence, to their emotional awareness, their sensitivity, their amazing being ├óΓé¼ΓÇ¥ and we just can’t stand the loss, we need them. If we lose them, we lose ourselves and part of ourselves. This is possibly a call to awaken to our kinship with them, actually to our kinship with all life.”
We couldn’t agree more — hopefully this tragedy sheds more light on the plight of the endangered species.
[Image via Instagram.]