The split-second decision to shoot the silverback may have saved a human life, but opinion is divided about how both beings could have been saved. Zoo policy and legal proceedings aside, many behaviourists agree that the right decision was made in this case. Harambe’s job, as a dominant male, was to protect his females from any potential threats. What is seen in the video of the gorilla’s interaction with the young boy could be Harambe testing the child by subjecting him to rough play. This may have been harmless in Harambe’s eyes, but the boy was still at risk of injury no matter the ape’s intentions.
However, there are historical cases of male gorillas protecting children that have entered enclosures, like Jambo of Durrell Wildlife Park in Jersey, UK. A fallen five-year-old boy was protected from the rest of the troop by the gentle gorilla until he was rescued.
Wild apes recognise their own young and form strong bonds with them. Males will even grab hold of an infant to prevent another adult from attacking it. In the end, the world will never know what could have happened if the fatal shot had not been fired, and Cincinnati Zoo may have faced global outcry no matter what the outcome.