In 1996, a boy fell into a zoo enclosure. Female gorilla Binti Jua protected the boy from other animals, cradling him until he was rescued.
On Aug. 16, 1996, a crowd of visitors at Brookfield Zoo looked on in horror as they saw a toddler tumble more than 15 feet into a pit, landing near seven
On Aug. 16, 1996, a crowd of visitors at Brookfield Zoo looked on in horror as they saw a toddler tumble more than 15 feet into a habitat, landing near seven gorillas. But as zoo patrons cried out for help, expecting the worst for the 3-year-old boy lying on the concrete below, an unlikely hero emerged.
Binti-Jua, a rare western lowland gorilla, lumbered over to the boy, cradled him in her arms, carried him to a doorway and laid him gingerly at the feet of waiting paramedics. The female gorilla appeared to act out of purely maternalistic compassion for the human child.
Binti Jua, an 8-year-old female western lowlan gorilla, is shown in an image from television rescuing a toddler who fell into the primate exhibit on Aug. 16, 1996, at Brookfield Zoo
Binti Jua, an 8-year-old female western lowlan gorilla, is shown in an image from television rescuing a toddler who fell into the primate exhibit on Aug. 16, 1996, at Brookfield Zoo (WLS-TV)
“She picked up the boy, kind of cradling him, and walked him around,” Sondra Catzen, a zoo spokeswoman, told the Tribune at the time.
At first it appeared the boy had been knocked unconscious by the fall, witnesses told zoo officials, but he was alert and crying when paramedics reached him. The boy was treated at a hospital and recovered fully.
Within a few days, camera crews and reporters from England, Germany and Australia clamored to film Binti lounging at home. Dozens of people offered money to “adopt” her. And a Chicago grocer offered 25 pounds of free bananas.
Binti Jua, on Aug. 21, 2000, at the age of 12 at Brookfield Zoo. (Stephanie Sinclair/Chicago Tribune)
Binti’s action 20 years ago was recalled by some people when a similar incident was in the news recently. In May, a 4-year-old boy fell into a moat at the Gorilla World exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo. That accident had a much sadder outcome: a gorilla dragged the child for 10 minutes before the animal was shot and killed by a response team that believed the boy’s life was in danger.
A male gorilla with a child who fell into a moat at the Cincinnati Zoo in May 2016.
Binti-Jua means “daughter of sunlight” in Swahili, but as an infant she had little real mothering. Born in the Columbus Zoo in Ohio in March 1988, she was treated with indifference by her mother, officials said. Humans had to cradle and handfeed Binti with a bottle. As she grew, other female apes groomed and socialized her.
Binti-Jua, then age 17, holds her male newborn in May 2005. (Carl Wagner / Chicago Tribune)
Once mature, Binti learned the basics of nurturing — to the benefit of her own offspring and, in a touching moment that captured the world’s attention, an injured little boy.