Local primate expert weighs in on gorilla controversy

ELIZABETHTOWN, Pa. (WHTM) – A dramatic video showing a three-year-old boy inside a gorilla cage at the Cincinnati Zoo has been quite the talker the past few days.

The cell phone video shows a 400-pound silverback gorilla grabbing and dragging the child.

The story has a tie to the Midstate.

Robert Wheelersburg is a professor of anthropology at Elizabethtown College and has studied primates at the Cincinnati Zoo.

“The fact that (the gorilla) didn’t come up and kill him right away, or damage and hurt him right away, might have indicated that he was trying to protect him,” he told ABC 27 News. “These are very, very smart animals. My feeling is he knew it was a child.”

Wheelersburg explained silverback gorillas are typically only violent with other male gorillas. The Lancaster County professor said more often than not, they’re nurturing creatures.

“Gorillas, even gorilla infants can take quite a bit of throwing around,” Wheelersburg explained. “They climb trees, they fall out of trees. I don’t know that he was being overly rough with that child.”

Wheelersburg admitted zoo officials had to make a tough decision when they decided to kill the gorilla to save the child.

“What would have happened if they hadn’t and he killed the child?” Wheelersburg asked. “Then, people would have been looking at it the other way. In this case, it’s a hard call, but human rather than a gorilla, I think that’s not a choice.”

Wheelersburg explained to ABC27 News that a tranquilizer might have only made the 17-year-old gorilla mad.

Wheelersburg also suggested that the boy’s mother should start a fundraiser to help the zoo raise money to buy another gorilla.

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