Raising the Standard at UGA since 2013.

The Unlikely Survival of Dear Harambe

A Silverback Gorilla similar to Harambe’s weight in the Wild. Photo Courtesy of Matthew Hoelscher.

Who is Harambe? A meme, a martyr, a hero, a social movement, a gorilla or some combination of them all?

The Harambe “movement” began on May 28th, a day after a certain gorilla in the Cincinnati Zoo was celebrating his 17th birthday. He had been brought to the zoo in 2014 as a part of a breeding program aimed at expanding the gene pool of this endangered species of Western Lowland Gorillas. When a young child fell into the moat of the habitat, the 440-pound Silverback entered the water to investigate the boy. Opinions on the incident vary, but what is indisputable is that Harambe dragged the child out of the water and proceeded to stand over him. Some described this as a protective instinct while others felt that the ape was on the verge of injuring the boy. Zoo employees chose to use lethal means instead of a tranquilizer to bring down the majestic beast in order to ensure the safety of the child. They judged that the delay between the gorilla being pierced by the dart and the tranquilizer taking effect might have allowed too much time for Harambe to react unpredictably near the child.

What remains from this months-old incident is, of all things, a slew of internet memes. This gorilla has gained visibility through social media trends like the “RIPHarambe” hashtag, shrines/memorials of remembrance, Harambe Hearts the Dawgs gameday buttons, and an abundance of other sarcastic phrases regarding the once-heralded zoo attraction. There is even a petition with nearly 25,000 signatures supporting changing the Cincinnati Bengals’ name to the Cincinnati Harambes. This may be written off as a simpleminded waste of time, a genuine movement, or just a fad, but it is impossible to deny that Harambe has gained a tremendous amount of attention since his demise.

Furthermore, Harambe has become more than just an internet sensation. Several animal rights groups have used Harambe as a martyr for their causes. Some groups point out that if this once wild creature had never been in captivity, then this movement would had never popped up on our timelines, feeds, and streams.

Harmabe has even become the subject of the political debate. Members of the Black Lives Matters Movement have questioned why the death of a gorilla has received more attention than some of the deaths of black men at the hands of police officers.

Call this movement what you will, but Harambe has proven to be more than just a weeklong hot-button issue. His death started a movement. Harambe is a meme, a martyr, a hero, a social movement, and a Gorilla. Internet memes of the past, like deceivingly colored dresses, ice water challenges, or planking to name a few, pale in comparison to this gorilla’s fresh history of activism, sarcasm and symbolism. Harambe is now an icon for a variety of causes that cannot be summarized by any one joke, article, or hashtag campaign.  

— Ben Grayson is a sophomore studying marketing.

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