Five years after the controversial death of Harambe the gorilla, who was shot dead in 2016 after a three-year-old boy fell into his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, an image of the iconic primate is being auctioned as a non-fungible token (NFT).
The photo being sold at auction as an NFT is the one of the first taken by Harambe’s official photographer, Jeff McCurry, who “took thousands of photos of Harambe over the course of 14 months,” according to the BBC.
The image, taken on the day McCurry and Harambe met, has been shared more than 5 billion times online, according to the organizers of the auction.
“I considered Harambe a true friend,” McCurry said of the late gorilla. “My many hours spent with him were always special and intimate. While I will never stop taking photos as long as I live, I know I’ll never find a better subject that means as much to me as Harambe.”
On May 28, 2016, a three-year-old boy was able to climb into Cincinnati Zoo’s gorilla enclosure and was grabbed by Harambe, the 17-year-old western lowland gorilla. The decision to shoot Harambe was deeply controversial, sparking fierce debate online which continues to this day.
Shortly after the incident, CNN reported, “The family of a boy who entered a Cincinnati Zoo gorilla’s enclosure last weekend — spurring zoo officials to shoot and kill the animal — will be the focus of an investigation into the incident, Cincinnati police said Tuesday.”
“The 3-year-old boy was dragged across a moat by the 450-pound gorilla on Saturday. After a 10-minute encounter, Cincinnati Zoo officials shot and killed the beloved and endangered gorilla, named Harambe. The boy was not seriously injured,” CNN continued.
According to Cincinnati police, their review was “only regarding the actions of the parents/family that led up to the incident and not related to the operation or safety of the Cincinnati Zoo.” CNN added that authorities had confirmed that “the boy’s mother was with the child at the time he slipped past a fence and tumbled into the moat.”
Harambe’s death also sparked a generation of social media memes, which reappear every year to mark the anniversary of his demise.
One example was shared by World Star Hip Hop. The caption read, “RIP to the legends,” listing the notable deaths of 2016. The images included musicians Prince and David Bowie, boxing legend Muhammad Ali, mixed martial artist Kimbo Slice, the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball franchise, and Harambe the gorilla.
— WORLDSTARHIPHOP (@WORLDSTAR) June 7, 2016
Non-fungible tokens have become hugely popular in recent months. The viral “Charlie Bit My Finger” video was sold as an NFT this week for a reported $760,999, while model and actress Emily Ratajkowski auctioned an image titled, “Buying Myself Back: A Model for Redistribution,” earlier in May.
A non-fungible token is a digital item stored on blockchain technology which is used to certify the digital asset’s uniqueness.