It was a tale that left the whole world astonished, a 5-year-old boy fell off a 20 feet high wall into a gorilla pit and was knocked unconscious. The horrifying moment caught on video then shows how the child is, surprisingly, protected by a giant 450-pound male silver-back gorilla, named Jambo, who softly strokes his back and then stood guard to protect the child from other gorillas.
On August 30 1986, Levan Merritt, his parents, Stephen and Pauline, and his siblings, Stephanie, Clint and Lloyd decided to visit the zoo to celebrate the birthday of his youngest sibling, Lloyd. Little did they know their family trip would be broadcast around the world and bring Jambo to stardom.
When the family got to the gorilla pit, dad Stephen lifted Levan’s brother Clint on his shoulders to get a better look at the apes below. Levan decided to follow suit and climbed up the wall before anyone could notice he slipped and fell 20 feet into the pit, snapping his arm and fracturing his skull in the process.
As he lay unconscious on the ground, a giant 450-pound male silver-back gorilla called Jambo approached him.
The Merrits family and a crowd of onlookers watched on in horror, as Jambo reached out and gently stroked Levan’s back.
Jambo then stood guard over Levan, placing himself between the unconscious child and the other gorillas who were approaching in a protective stance.
A few moments later, Levan began to regain consciousness and started to cry. As his family and other people screamed at him to remain still, his crying caused Jambo and the gorillas to retreat in panic.
Rescuers then jumped in to retrieve Levan after which he was airlifted to hospital.
The footage was featured in “The Urban Gorilla,” an award-winning 1992 documentary by ArgoFilms that follows the lives of 9 gorillas living in captivity.
“Never before had such an accident occurred. And never before had this full-grown male gorilla encountered a human being within his domain. Only the worst could be imagined. But what was to unfold this September afternoon would astonish the world.” Narrator Glenn Close describes the tense moment.
Jambo’s and Levan’s tale produced headlines around the world and helped to alter the perception of gorillas from King Kong’s mean-spirited animals to the smart, sensitive, delicate species we understand them to be today.