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The video of Jambo looking over Levan Merritt at the Jersey Zoo was voted number one by the Channel Island public as the “Shot that shook the Island.” More here

I carried my video camera everywhere

Brian Le Lion1

Jambo at Jersey Zoo in 1986

Back in 1986 a five year old boy fell into the Gorilla Enclosure at Jersey Zoo. Jambo the male Silverback Gorilla stood guard over him. Little was I to know how the video I took would change the public’s perception of the species dispelling the “ King Kong” theory.

 I was a keen amateur video photographer with the dream of perhaps one day being a news cameraman or a graphic artist one day. I was really into the new technology I started with the first home video cameras where you had a small fixed focus camera connected by a lead to a full sized video recorder.

This was so heavy at the time that I had to pull it around in a wheeled canvas shopping trolly! Time moved on and a couple of years latter I decided to buy the latest and smallest all in one camcorder. This was the Sony CCD-V8. It was a pricey 1300 back in 1986. Little was I to know how significant it would be to carry my camera at all times....


Smallest Camcorder at the time

The camera felt and looked like a professional News camera, as you used it by resting it on your shoulder. I carried this camera with me everywhere. This was the time when home video cameras were just taking off so there were not that many around. When this accident happened I was the only person around with a video camera. If the same event would of happened today I am sure it would be filmed by at least 20 people at all possible angles, using the latest DV cameras, or mobile phones.

See video of the dramatic event here

Jambo Video

So you could say that by carrying my camera around with me did turn out as a stoke worked out for the best. If I had not been there to record the event no one would have been able to see how gentle Jambo was and how he protected the boy.

I have been asked “Why did you continue to video? Why did you not jump in and help?”

The events happened very quickly and as things unfolded you did get a feeling that the gorillas were actually calmer than the people looking into the enclosure. So it did not feel like anything terrible was going to happen. Jumping in would have been a silly thing to do. It was a long jump down and none of us knew how gorillas would react if you were in there. Also what would you do if you did jump in? There needed to be someone with medical trailing to check the boys injuries first. Moving him could have added to his injuries.

 If the situation had changed and the boy could have been hurt by the gorillas there would be no way that I would have continued to video. It was a great relief know that apart from the boys injuries (which would latter heal) everyone got out without being hurt.

copyright Brian Le lion 2012

It was a Sunday afternoon 31st August 1986

A normal visit to the zoo I thought. I started to video my parents and baby brother Chris looking at the animals. Little did I know what was about to happen...

The Lowland Silver Back gorilla named Jambo (Swahili for Hello) was famous for the gentleness he displayed towards a little five year old boy (Levan Merritt) who fell into the gorilla enclosure at Jersey Zoo (Gerald Durrell’s Wildlife Conservation Trust) one afternoon in 1986. The dramatic event hit the headlines around the world. I was lucky enough to have been in the right place at the right time to record this. The result from this television exposure was that it helped dispel the myth that gorillas are thought to be always dangerous and ferocious.

It was a Sunday afternoon in August 1986 when I decided to visit Jersey Zoo with my mother, father and baby brother. It was a warm sunny day which made it a good day to practice with my video camera. The idea was to get some nice shots of the animals.

Levan was on holiday in Jersey from the UK with his family. His parents Pauline and Steve, his brother Lloyd and sister Stephanie. They had decided to visit the zoo because they were a bit bored of the beach.

The Gorilla complex is designed to give the most natural living environment for the gorillas, and the best view possible for the public without the use of bars.

It consist of covered living quarters where the gorillas can sleep and are protected from the weather. This leads to an outside landscaped area made up of grass and trees. There are several mounds of earth in the centre of the enclosure which slope down to a concrete drainage area. This in turn is surrounded by a 12 ft high concrete wall. The public look over this wall down and into the Gorilla enclosure. Looking across the complex gives the impression that the gorillas living space is part of the surrounding environment.

When the Merritt family arrived at the gorilla enclosure they realised that the gorillas had gathered beneath the wall below them, just out of sight where Steve and the children were standing. The wall stands about chest level to an adult.

Steve lifted Levan onto the wall so he could get a better look and then turned around to pick up Lloyd. For some reason Steve was distracted. At that moment Pauline saw Levan bolt upright on top of the wall as he toppled forward. Steve looking at Pauline saw from the expression on her face and realised what had happened.

I had only been at the zoo for about 20 minutes when I heard shouting and screaming coming from area of the gorilla enclosure. We quickly moved there to see what was going on.

Steve decided to climb down the wall but was stopped by the people around him. Other people tried to calm down Pauline who was screaming and pulled her away from the wall. They told her the boy had fallen onto the grass and gorillas were locked away. This was not the case.

Levan had fallen onto the concrete drainage path 12 ft below. He was perfectly still with blood coming from back of head. He had fractured skull on wall when fallen. Steve looked at him and thought he was dead.

People watched in horror as Nandi a female gorilla and offspring moved towards Levan. Jambo closely followed. As Nandi approached Levan Jambo took charge and placed himself between them as if to say “Don’t touch!” This is thought to have been either Jambo protecting his family and perhaps at the same time satisfying his curiosity before any other members of the troop decided to find out what this human boy was doing in their home. Jambo then sat looking over the boy. Jambo then sat next to Levan and looked up curiously at the crowd as if to say “What is he doing here?”

By now a large crowd had gathered and they thought that Jambo would harm the child. Because Levan was quiet Jambo did not regard the child as a threat. The greatest threat was actually the crowd. There was a lot of screaming and some of the them said they should throw rocks to scare the gorillas away. My father then took control, telling them any action like this would be bad and told them all to keep quiet.

Levan fell 12 ft onto concrete...........

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