Child falls into gorilla enclosure and meets a hairy heroine

On August 16, 1996, a crowd of visitors at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago witnessed a horror scene when a relaxed, family excursion suddenly turned into a nightmare situation. It only took one second for the three-year-old toddler to slip away from his parents. They were visiting the gorilla enclosure at the time... 

The young boy managed to climb over the barrier and tumble more than 15 feet into the enclosure, landing near seven gorillas. Although he was only slightly injured by the fall, the crowd looked on in horror, screaming for help. Other visitors could hardly look and kept their eyes closed. At first it appeared the boy had been knocked unconscious by the fall, landing right in the middle of the habitat. It was then, while he was lying on the concrete floor, that an unlikely heroine emerged — one with strong arms and a hairy chest.

Binti-Jua, a rare western lowland gorilla, immediately arrived at the scene. She lumbered over the boy and gently picked him up, cradling him in her arms. Lovingly, she took care of the helpless boy and protected him from the other gorillas, while the passers-by watched on disbelievingly. Binti-Jua carefully carried the boy to the front door of the enclosure, where she gently laid him down at the feet of the waiting the paramedics.

It was a truly incredible scene that will forever remain in the zoo patrons' memories. "She picked up the boy, kind of cradling him, and walked him around," said Sondra Catzen, a zoo spokeswoman.

The boy was alert and crying by the time the paramedics reached him. He had to overcome the initial shock and was then taken away to be treated in hospital, where he made a full recovery. He could hardly have landed in better hands. Although Binti-Jua did not have much mothering of her own as an infant, she was taken in by other female apes who groomed and socialized her. She later learned the nurturing instinct, which ulimately saved the little boy's life.

The images and story of such an incredible rescue got out and within days camera crews and reporters from all over the globe assembled at the Brookfield Zoo to film Binti-Jua in her enclosure. People were so overcome with gratitude and admiration that they made monetary donations and offered to adopt her. A Chicago grocer even went so far as to offer 25 pounds of free bananas.

Binti-Jua’s rescue action 21 years ago was recently recalled by some people when a similar incident took place at the Cincinnati Zoo in May, 2016. A four-year-old boy, who was visiting the zoo with his family, caused quite an uproar when he slipped away from his parents, crawled under wire fencing and fell four meters down into the moat of a gorilla enclosure. Unfortunately, it had a much sadder outcome: the gorilla was shot for fear the child's life was in danger. You can read more about this particular incident here.

Without this incredible gorilla, this story might have ended quite differently. Binti-Jua was in the right place at the right time and was just amazing! Some animals are closer to us than we sometimes think. In the following video, you can see the dramatic scenes and watch Binti-Jua in action:

My hat goes off to this incredible gorilla! When everyone else stood still and watched in shock, Binti-Jua came to the rescue and saved a little boy's life. It was a brief moment in history, but after all these years it still captures the hearts of people around the world. Bravo Binti!


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