The unconscious boy was examined by a gorilla named Jambo, who shielded him from the other animals. The gorillas retreated when the boy regained consciousness, and he was rescued by paramedics.
The incident had been taped and was used to persuade the public that gorillas weren’t as dangerous as they appeared.
Video of the incident resurfaced as public scrutiny has increased over the killing of a gorilla at the Cincinnati zoo, which was deemed by zookeepers as necessary to save a boy who had fallen into the gorilla enclosure there.
Brian de Leon, who had caught Jambo on tape 30 years ago, said that what happened in Cincinnati reminded himself of his own visit to the Jersey zoo.
“The crowd was shouting out, and my dad was trying to keep them quiet,” de Leon told the Independent. “There were a lot of emotions going on at the time. It carried on filming and it was not until later that I realised people thought it might be important.”
Jambo died in 1992 of natural causes. Levan Merritt, the boy who fell into the enclosure, said he was thankful for Jambo.
“I am forever thankful to Jambo as obviously it could have gone one or two ways. It was amazing how he protected me in that way. I was pleased to be involved when the statue was put up of him in the zoo,” Merritt told the Daily Mail earlier this year.
One difference between the incident at the Jersey zoo and at the Cincinnati zoo was that Merritt had been unconscious.
The Cincinnati zoo said that they couldn’t tranquilize the gorilla because it might have aggravated him and endangered the child.