SHARE
Elmo the silverback doesn’t always kick the zoo veggie cart, but when he does, he makes sure it’s a social media sensation. Photo by Teri Webster

Have you heard about the gorilla, the former security guard, and a viral video? This isn’t a joke. A real social media and mainstream media frenzy unfolded a few days ago when the former employee of the Fort Worth Zoo decided the time was ripe to make the video public. His timing is just one of the questions raised by a zoo misadventure that turned into a media circus.

On March 7, Ben White, ex-security guard turned TikTok legend, released a dramatic video taken at the zoo more than four months earlier on Oct 20, 2023. The reason? White has said that he was browsing through his reels and stumbled upon the footage of a musclebound gorilla barreling around a habitat with two zookeepers mistakenly inside.

The viral video captures the heart-stopping moment when a zookeeper slams a plastic tub of vegetables on the ground and flees after realizing that the zoo’s 420-pound silverback is charging in her direction from a cave. Elmo sprints across the habitat, toppling the tub with a force that sends a shower of veggies into the air. The gorilla then positions himself in a bold stance at the habitat’s forefront in what seems to be a safe distance from the keeper. Elmo’s eyes appear to be locked on her, as if he is awaiting her next move.

Neighborhood Wine Web Ad (300 x 250 px)

Obviously shaken, the zookeeper stands inside a habitat doorway as she radios for help. Meanwhile, her colleague remains on the opposite end of the enclosure. Elmo jogs over to the area where the second keeper is standing as she conceals herself behind a tree. The gorilla slaps a wall as he runs a good distance behind her, and after he passes by, she also flees to safety.

Zoo guests are heard praying aloud in the video, saying things like “God, help her.”

Although the count is still rolling, the video has over 170 million plays on White’s TikTok page alone. On Monday, White posted a Cash App link with a statement that any donations would go to “gorilla conservation.” He also asked viewers to send memes of the zoo incident.

White did not film the clip. A zoo visitor shared the video with him to help assist the zoo with its review of the incident, said Avery Elander, the Fort Worth Zoo’s director of marketing and public relations. She also explained what happened that day: “Every day, the zookeepers shift the gorilla troop into their indoor habitat so that keepers can place the animals’ lunch in their outdoor habitat. Due to keeper error, staff entered the yard unaware that the silverback was still in its habitat. The zookeepers work with and train these animals every day, and thanks to their knowledge and expertise, they navigated the situation calmly and were able to exit the yard safely.”

Elander added that White was “employed for about seven months and his last day was in February.” She also said zoo security employees are not required to sign nondisclosure agreements.

The closeness of White’s departure and the subsequent decision to release the footage is odd at best.

The video came out not long after the zoo received a flurry of accolades for the emergency delivery of a baby gorilla via c-section after the mother experienced life-threatening pregnancy complications. Both Mom Sekani and Baby Jameela are doing well. However, Jameela’s future at the zoo is in question as both Sekani and a would-be surrogate mom, Gracie, have not stepped in full-time to raise her. As we said last week, the zoo has said it wants Jameela to be raised by gorillas, not people. One of the options under consideration is moving her to another zoo if that is deemed to be in Jameela’s best interest.

If the video only received dozens of views instead of millions, would national and local media have picked it up? No chance.

Another question is the level of privacy employees and others should expect, even in a public setting. No one would enjoy having a bad day on the job filmed and played for millions of viewers. Plus, the error may not have even been the fault of the two zookeepers in the video.

Most importantly, no one, including Elmo, was hurt in what could have been a dire situation. At the end of the video, the striking 34-year-old gorilla almost seems remorseful as he picks up a bucket left behind by one of the keepers and gently carries it as he walks toward the door where they made their exit.

 

This column reflects the opinions of the editorial board and not the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a column, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com. He will gently edit it for clarity and concision.

LEAVE A REPLY