Memes We Love: RIP Harambe

RIP Harambe



Harambe RIP

When did Harambe die

May 28th, 2016


Harambe (at times referred to as 'Harambee') was a 17-year-old western lowland gorilla who was shot and killed at the Cincinnati Zoo on May 28th, 2016. Many people blamed the parents for letting their child into Harambe's habitat and, as a result, his untimely death. In response, RIP Harambe memes took over the internet.

Harambe was born in Brownsville, Texas on May 27, 1999. He was named by one of the local counselors, who won a naming contest sponsored by the zoo that Harambe was born at. He was named after the song "Harambe (Working Together for Freedom)" by Rita Marley. In Swahili, Harambe means communal labor.

In September 2014, Harambe was moved from Texas to the Cincinnati zoo to be with adult gorillas. 

The incident that made Harambe famous occurred on May 28, 2016. On that day, a three-year-old kid visiting the zoo fell into the Gorilla World exhibit. To get to Harambe, the boy climbed a 3-foot-tall fence, crawled through 4-feet of bushes, then fell 15-feet into a moat. Zoo officials signaled to the gorillas to go back into their habitat, but Harambe instead approached the child.

As spectators watched and screamed, Harambe became scared and confused. Eventually, he dragged the child through the water. Harambe puffed out his chest and arms to appear bigger, a move typically seen by gorillas when they are threatened. Harambe then dragged the boy out of the water and up the ladder on to dry land. 

Zoo officials made the difficult decision to shoot the gorilla in order to save the boy's life. Harambe was killed with a single shot rifle one day after his 17th birthday.

YouTuber Maxi posted a video of the shooting, which eventually received more than 12.6 million views and 41,000 comments in 48 hours. The video was eventually taken down, but copies of the video made there way across the internet. 

Meme Meaning

The entire incident was recorded on video and received widespread international coverage and commentary. Much of the controversy centered on the choice to kill Harambe.

The killing of Harambe went viral on social media with some observers believing it was unclear whether Harambe was going to harm the child. Others were very upset at the boy's parents, calling for punishment and putting the blame on the parents.

As Director Thane Maynard of the Cincinnati zoo expressed, 

"The child was being dragged around ... His head was banging on concrete. This was not a gentle thing. The child was at risk."

In the end, no charges were pressed against the parents and the zoo was not blamed for any wrongdoing.

A petition titled "Justice for Harambe" was created on People were calling for the authorities to hold the child's parents responsible for the death of Harambe. The petition gained over 338,000 signatures within 2 days.

The hashtags #JusticeForHarambe and #RIPHarambe took over Facebook and Twitter.

Several vigils began to pop up to honor Harambe's death. As many as 3,400 people showed up in Hyde Park, London. 

The story would go on to be covered by CNN, BBC News, Time, The Daily Dot, and Mirror.

Harambe quickly became one of the biggest memes of the past century. Vox wrote in November 2016: 

"[Harambe has an] undeniable status as 2016's meme of the year."

And People magazine wrote: 

"Harambe continues to live on in the collective mind of the internet, entering into a rarefied state of venerated meme status."

The most popular memes tended to be the ones that were the most over-the-top. For example, the "Dicks out for Harambe" meme. More memes popped up around conspiracy theories, such as "Bush killed Harambe."

Thane Maynard was not amused by the internet memes, stating:

"We are not amused by the memes, petitions and signs about Harambe. Our zoo family is still healing, and the constant mention of Harambe makes moving forward more difficult for us. We are honoring Harambe by redoubling our gorilla conservation efforts and encouraging others to join us."

At one point, the Cincinnati zoo had to delete its Twitter account due to the harassment and trolling they were receiving. After a few months, the zoo restarted its Twitter account and began to tweet again.

2016 United States Presidential Election

In the 2016 election, on November 8th, many people wrote in Harambe. Many people were tweeting about more than 11,000 people writing in Harambe, which subsequently received considerable retweets and shares. 

Harambe Cheeto

On February 6th, 2017, eBay seller valuestampsinc posted bidding for a Cheeto that supposedly resembled Harambe. Eventually, the Cheeto was sold for $99,900 on the morning of February 7th.


On May 29th, one day after the incident, a post made its way to r/news, where it received 7,100 votes (87% upvoted) and 6,200 comments within the next 48 hours.

Reddit quickly jumped on the story of Harambe, creating r/harambe on May 31, 2016, which now has 20,000 members. It is "A subreddit dedicated to the one we love and honor, Harambe."

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